Great Barrington pursues 'low cost and green' collective power purchase plan

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Electricity in town will soon come from a wind power source for less than standard green energy prices after the Select Board last week decided to pool the town's collective purchasing power with the help of an energy consulting firm.

Through Colonial Power Group, the town entered into a 12-month contract with NextEra Energy Resources, whose supplier is National Wind. The pricing is less than National Grid's standard and green rates, according to Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin.

Tabakin said for a medium-size home that uses about 750 kilowatts per month the monthly rate would be about $79.49, less than National Grid's basic monthly rate of $95. The company's green rate would be $112, she added.

"So for the owner of medium-sized house, this is a savings of about $186 a year — and we have the town on 100 percent green energy sources," Tabakin said in an email.

Mark Cappadona, president of Colonial Power Group ran through possible options and a price comparison sheet with the Select Board last week. Board members, after asking many questions, told him they wanted green energy at the lowest rate possible.

As of last Monday, Colonial's price comparison sheet showed the basic retail rate of power sourced from fossil fuels slightly higher than that sourced from wind.

Colonial's website says the company has negotiated rates of up to 10 percent lower than the standard rates offered by local utilities by using municipal aggregation — also known as Community Choice Power Supply Programs — which harnesses the collective buying power in a community to lock in lower prices.

"Consumers have virtually no choice when buying electricity," says Colonial's website. "Local government can bring choice and stability to its community through municipal aggregation. Once in an aggregation program consumers are no longer "stuck" with basic service rates. Local government can set its own energy-related goals such as long-term rates or green options."

The Marlborough-based company also says that the state passed a law that deregulated the electricity market in 1997 to help consumers get better rates and more choices by creating competition among suppliers. This never happened because "The individual [consumer] does not buy enough electricity to make it worth their while," according to Colonial.

Cappadona said National Grid will remain the service provider in town, since it owns the infrastructure. He also said residents who want to opt out of having National Grid's basic service replaced with the new supplier can do so, and that all of this will be explained in a mailings to homes and businesses.

Bills will still come from National Grid, he added.

Tabakin told The Eagle that for the last several years the town has tried to find a way to participate in municipal aggregation, and had been working with another group of New England communities. That never hatched, she said.

She said this is something worth doing, and that it was encouraging to learn from Cappadona that the price difference between power sourced from fossil fuels and green energy is minimal.

"It makes sense that for our whole town we should have the default [power] that is both low cost and green," Tabakin said.

Reach staff writer Heather Bellow at 413-329-6871.


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