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Brighton renewable power program on pause after contractor defaults



A Brighton program that provided town residents and businesses with cost-competitive renewable energy is on hold.

Source Power, the electricity supply company the town contracted with for the initiative, was recently booted out of the state’s competitive energy market by the New York Independent System Operator. That made Source Power ineligible to serve as an electricity supplier in New York, causing it to default on its contracts with Brighton and several other communities.

The operator, known as NYISO, administers the marketplace and the state’s power grid. It said in a notice filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last month that it terminated Source Power from the markets for “failure to timely make a payment due to the NYISO.”

Sue Hughes-Smith, a Brighton resident and Monroe County legislator, was frustrated by the company’s default. She and other supporters pushed for the town to implement the energy purchasing program, known technically as community choice aggregation, because of its potential to bring renewable power to large groups of utility customers.

Roctricity's Sue Hughes-Smith - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Roctricity's Sue Hughes-Smith
“It creates distrust in the public that has nothing to actually do with renewable energy and has to do with the failure of one company to meet their business obligations to pay a bill,” said Hughes-Smith, who co-founded a company, Roctricity, that manages customer service aspects of the programs for several Rochester-area communities, including Brighton. “That is frustrating to those of us who are trying to use the market as a solution to our climate problem.”

Community choice aggregation programs aim to leverage the buying power of municipalities to provide residential and business customers with power supplies that are cheaper or greener than the standard supplies provided by utilities such as Rochester Gas & Electric. Municipalities solicit bids for a dedicated supply of power and customers buy their electricity through a contract between the municipality and the supplier.

Brighton officials implemented a town-wide community choice aggregation program in 2020, which included contracting with Source Power to provide an all-hydroelectric power supply for more than 10,000 customers.

“We are disturbed and disappointed by this interruption to our CCA program, because we know that renewable energy is essential to our future,” read a notice posted to the town’s website. “We will provide updates as new information becomes available that we can share with residents.”

The city of Canandaigua and village of Victor, both of which had supply contracts with Source Power for their community choice aggregation programs, are in the same situation as Brighton. In the interim, RG&E is serving as the electricity supplier for customers in the three municipalities.

When Brighton officials launched the community choice aggregation in October 2020, they were optimistic about its success. The town had secured a two-year contract with Source Power, which had promised to provide electricity from New York-based hydropower projects at a fixed rate of roughly 4 cents per kilowatt hour. The contract was in place before recent spikes in energy prices.

RG&E’s electricity supply has a variable rate — currently around 5 cents per kilowatt hour — and comes from nuclear generators, natural gas-fired power plants, and renewables.

The Source Power contract saved electricity customers in Brighton an estimated $1.5 million over its first 18 months, Hughes-Smith said.

The NYISO isn’t publicly releasing the details around Source Power’s default. The company previously angered some Brighton residents and officials by bungling billing for a separate community solar program. Some residents reported unexpectedly receiving bills in excess of $1,000.

Hughes-Smith said the billing issues, seem to have been largely resolved. Because the opt-in solar program was separate from the community choice aggregation initiative, Source Power continues to offer it to customers in Brighton, Canandaigua, and Victor.

In a statement, Source Power CEO Will May blamed the default on “a billing and crediting issue with RG&E, in which the utility’s regulatory interpretation resulted in our company not collecting over $1.2 million in solar credits.” He added that the company is working toward a settlement with NYISO and all involved parties.

Jeremy Moule is CITY’s news editor. He can be reached at [email protected].