Sustainable Essex Alliance returns to PSE&G power for now

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — Residents who obtained energy through the Sustainable Essex Alliance Energy Procurement Cooperative may have recently noticed some changes on their bills. SEAEPC participants do not need to do anything different with their bills; the change is because the contract for the second round of the renewable energy aggregation program expired at the beginning of September.

Those enrolled in the SEAEPC — an alliance between Glen Ridge, Glen Rock, Livingston, Maplewood, Montclair, South Orange and Verona — will go back to receiving their energy from PSE&G. The transition from provider Energy Harbor LLC back to the PSE&G tariff was seamless, and there is nothing that residents need to do to effectuate this change.

Back in 2020, the SEAEPC launched the second round of the Sustainable Essex Alliance program for the purpose of creating purchasing leverage and providing an opportunity for participating residents to save some money on their electric bills while improving the townships’ carbon footprint. Competing proposals were received from multiple state-licensed electric power suppliers through a competitive procurement process conducted by the SEAEPC in fall 2020, and a contract was awarded in November 2020 to the low bidder, Energy Harbor. 

Energy Harbor has been providing electric supply service under this contract to participating residents since April 2021 at small savings vs. the price being charged by PSE&G for the power supply portion of their electric bills. The contract with Energy Harbor also required that power supply provided to residents contain enhanced renewable energy content. Specifically, the power being supplied to participating residents contained 40-percent renewable energy, which is nearly double the current state-mandated minimum renewable energy content. As a result, participating residents have realized some savings while reducing their carbon footprint. 

The SEAEPC is currently working on entering a new third-party energy contract. The SEAEPC conducted a competitive bid process in May 2022; however, given the current volatile state of energy market prices, it was difficult to obtain favorable bid pricing. According to participating towns, the SEAEPC concluded that it was in residents’ best interests in the short term to be returned to PSE&G basic generation service for power supply. 

The SEAEPC will be monitoring market conditions for improved opportunities to award a contract, in consultation with its energy consultant, Gabel Associates Inc., and expects to go back out to bid within the next 12 months. If the SEAEPC awards a new contract for a third round of the SEA program, the new contract would most likely start in early to mid-2023.

“The Sustainable Essex Alliance Energy Procurement Cooperative tested the market in May of 2022 by requesting proposals from third-party suppliers for a new energy supply contract. The prices received were all significantly higher than PSE&G’s utility rates, and the cooperative concluded that, near term, residents are better served by PSE&G,” Loren Altshuler, director of energy procurement at Gabel Associates, told the newspaper. “We continually monitor market conditions, and, once they improve, we will issue another request for proposal at that time.”

Though the SEAEPC has recently reverted back to PSE&G, local leaders are eager to get back to using third-party energy suppliers once the rates are favorable to residents. 

“By pooling our buying power, the SEA Energy Procurement Cooperative gives utility customers in seven N.J. towns the ability to acquire a greener supply of electricity at a slightly lower rate,”Maplewood Deputy Mayor Vic DeLuca told the newspaper. “By participating in the co-op, thousands of Maplewood, South Orange, Glen Ridge, Montclair, Verona, Livingston and Glen Rock families are advancing green energy and helping to drive the electric industry away from its reliance on fossil fuels. 

“Our goals of greener and cheaper electricity could not be met in this bidding round, so our residents will revert back to PSE&G for their electric supply. We will watch the market and go out to bid again when it becomes more favorable,” DeLuca continued. “In the meantime, SEA’s energy efficiency program will continue to work with residents to assess how they can make their homes more sustainable and energy efficient. Having an energy-efficient home helps the planet and provides savings to our residents.”

For South Orange Trustee Bill Haskins, who serves as board liaison with the co-op, the program’s best aspect is the impact it can have on the environment.

“New Jersey’s standard renewable energy mix is about 20 percent. The program doubled it to about 40 percent. In the 5,000-household community of South Orange, that 20-percent increase is like waking up one morning to discover that 1,000 South Orange homes installed solar panels overnight! That would cost millions of dollars. The program also creates a New Jersey demand for renewable energy, driving New Jersey’s goals of developing offshore wind,” Haskins told the newspaper. “The program is South Orange’s best tool to reduce the use of fossil fuels, reduce pollution and mitigate the effects of climate change.”

When asked for comment, Glen Ridge officials directed the newspaper to the published update on the borough website. According to the update, all residents enrolled in the second round of the program will be automatically enrolled in the third round, whenever it should start.

“In such an event, eligible residents — all residents except those that have their own solar generating system or their own third-party supply contract, or those residents who have requested to be placed on the program’s ‘Do Not Disturb’ list — will be made aware of the details of the new contract,” the Glen Ridge website read. “Thereafter, residents would have the choice of opting out of the new program if they do not wish to participate or opting in to a 100-percent renewable content option if that is offered.”

PSE&G is mandated by law to provide a certain percentage of its supply from renewable sources and increase that each year. Currently, that is 25-percent renewable content. By 2023, 38 percent of its supply will be from renewable content, increasing to 53 percent by 2027. 

“In the meantime, the SEA will strive to stay above this percentage in the next round,” the Glen Ridge website read. 

Residents with questions can reach out to their local leaders or to the SEAEPC energy consultant, Gabel Associates, at [email protected]