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Smart Policy, No Natural Gas Deliver Green Win for Small New York Town

Marbletown, New York, population 5,500, is poised to achieve 100% low-cost renewable electricity within the year, and has a serious plan to decarbonize the rest of its energy supply, thanks to its newly-minted membership in a community choice aggregation (CCA) program, a fortuitous absence of natural gas resources, advances in heat pump technology, and progressive local policies.

Central Hudson, the town’s electric utility, will continue to deliver power and service (and bills) to customers. But the new community choice entity, Hudson Valley Community Power, will take over power purchases.

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“By leveraging the power of group purchasing electricity, the CCA administrator and the town expect that it will be able to provide 100% renewable electricity at a reduced price compared to electricity supplied by Central Hudson,” AltEnergyStocks reports. “If it turns out that the CCA cannot obtain electricity on advantageous terms, the town can leave the CCA at no cost and no further obligation.”

Central to the community’s rapid success was a factor that may have looked like a disadvantage at first. Marbletown’s isolation from the state’s natural gas supply network  enabled it “to cost-effectively leapfrog to all-electric buildings, in the same way many countries in Africa were able to leapfrog over the installation of costly telephone infrastructure when wireless phones became available,” the publication notes. An important bonus was the timely evolution of cold climate air-source heat pumps (ASHPs) whose relative low cost—especially against the price of fuel oil brought in by truck—will help homeowners keep dollars in their wallets year-round.

Marbletown has faced some significant hurdles, including the high level of car dependency in a typical rural town. But residents may be encouraged to make the switch to electric vehicles, thanks to a growing number of public charging stations introduced by the county government. With state funding, the town has also installed a charging station at its community centre.

Local planners also noted that the current granting system for EV chargers “is overly focused on high-speed charging along key transportation corridors, to the neglect of Level 2 charging at destinations like workplaces and recreation areas, like hiking trails,” AltEnergyStocks notes. “Town leaders believe the state grant program could be much improved if it also provided much smaller grants for the installation of non-networked charging stations more suitable to rural areas.”

The town, located at 42° north latitude, also faces a significant “seasonal mismatch” between its energy demand and available renewable supplies. Its hours of daylight range from nine in midwinter to 15 in midsummer, and solar installations only deliver one-third to half the energy in January that they do in July. Solving this problem “will be easiest,” the publication states, “if we start planning today by minimizing winter peak demand and looking for renewable electricity sources that have significant production during the coldest winter months.”

While the options include home weatherization upgrades and replacing electric resistance heating systems with state-of-the-art ASHPs, AltEnergyStocks Editor Tom Konrad acknowledges that an end-to-end solution will depend on resources outside town boundaries, like New York State’s current pursuit of 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind.

At the same time, though, Marbletown’s abundance of small streams could support more run-of-river hydro projects, he writes, while generous state incentives exist to encourage “the adoption of more efficient wood pellet stoves and advanced wood boilers,” an important initiative in a community where many residents “currently save money by heating with wood stoves, rather than fuel oil.”