Making the individual choice to invest in renewable power is a good decision for the sake of the environment. Some areas make it easy to tap into solar, wind, water and other renewable energy options by paying a few extra bucks on your monthly bill. Other areas don’t offer the option at all, or available options are cost prohibitive. Joule Assets has set out to change that paradigm with a program called Community Choice Solar, and it’s changing the framework of the power structure in New York. 

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Joule Community Power, also known as Joule Assets, is a company dedicated to increasing the amount of, and access to, renewable energy options. Basically they act as a mediary between cities and energy users on one side and energy providers on the other side. In this role, they work with municipalities and power companies to negotiate lower energy rates based on the numbers. In New York that means representing entire communities where a large number of customers can acquire lower energy rates than individuals can obtain. 

Related: Renewable energy is growing too slow to stop climate change

More than simply a bulk energy, cost-savings option, the community choice solar program maintains a focus on diversifying the types of energy available, with an emphasis on solar and other renewable energy, like the solar project shown above at 70 West Shore Drive in NY serving customers in the town of Esopus.

A recent contract with supplier Luminace is the largest solar generation supply agreement dedicated to community choice solar ever. It’s expected to produce approximately 24,600 megawatt hour in the first year of operation. A second contract with BQ Energy brings that total up to a combined 31,000 megawatt hour of community solar supply in the first year of operation for New York communities. 

Most green energy programs work as an opt-in system where customers choose to participate. This system typically captures about 5% of customers. The community choice solar program through Joule will largely be offered as an opt-out program instead. That means everyone will be signed up and only those who choose not to participate will be excluded from the program. Planners anticipate this will capture about 90% of customers. 

“Without having to lift a finger, our residents will be able to gain benefits from renewable energy while saving money,” said Marbletown Supervisor Rich Parete. “This is an amazing benefit for our town and the result of some terrific collaboration.”

In addition to making it easier to access energy that is sourced from solar, the community choice solar program also saves the customer money, estimated at up to 10% of their standard utility costs. The combined contracts will service more than 4,500 households and small businesses. Between 35% to 50% of those customers fall into the low to moderate income range, which provides a unique opportunity to allow these typically underrepresented households the chance to participate in renewable energy programs without extra expense.

“Hudson Valley Community Power will be the first opt-out community solar program that explicitly prioritizes LMI residents for solar benefits,” said Jessica Stromback, CEO of Joule Assets. “We have already brought thousands of New Yorkers monthly savings on their utility bills while promoting clean energy, and these deals will help those who need it most.”

BQ Energy develops renewable energy with a unique business model. Rather than buying and using large expanses of land for solar fields, it puts a focus on using unappealing land areas such as landfills and brownfield sites.

“We are arguably the most experienced and successful landfill solar developer in the U.S.,” the company said. “This year, we have added 175 MW of new projects to our development portfolio. We take pride in our ability to transform unusable land into operating solar projects that benefit local communities.”

As a service provider, the company benefits from expanding its client base.

“Repurposing landfills and brownfields to start generating new, clean energy is at the core of our mission and a benefit we are thrilled to expand upon in the Hudson Valley,” said Paul Curran, Managing Director of BQ Energy. “Knowing that the majority of our capacity is going to low-income residents adds a social value element to our environmental efforts.”

The programs offer an immediate increase in customer base for solar power providers, boosting the households they serve by thousands almost instantly. It also puts the “power” in the hands of community leaders when it comes to making decisions about the types of energy they want at a local level.

Joule Community Power is dedicated to “empowering local decision-making, enabling access to cleaner and cheaper energy and making it easier for New Yorkers to transition to renewable electricity. Through community choice aggregation (CCA), Joule helps municipalities join together to aggregate the buying power of residents at large enough scale to negotiate more favorable terms of their energy contracts, decrease electricity costs, designate renewable generation sources, choose clean energy, increase consumer protection, select a default energy services company, support local renewable generation and deliver the benefits of solar, or other renewables, to entire communities.”  

The combination of the opt-out programs, participation at the municipal level and the commitment from the solar energy providers will allow large communities with a varied population to transition into clean energy and is an automatic way to work towards climate goals for the country. Joule hopes the system sets an example for expansion across the United States and around the world. 

+ Joule Assets 

Image via Joule Assets