Mar 06, 2015 — St. Lawrence County in upstate New York wants to lower its energy costs. To accomplish this, the County is working with a hydropower company called Gravity Renewables. Gravity invests in small hydro plants and matches them with customers, like schools and towns.
Sarah Harris from North Country Public Radio spoke with officials at Gravity Renewables about what they do and the regulatory hurdles they face as they try to get cheaper power to St. Lawrence County facilities.
Sarah Harris: So guys, tell me what your business does.
Omay Elphick: We look for small hydro facilities around the country that are in need of reinvestment. And we match those facilities up with customers that are interested in the power that’s generated.
Ted Rose: We’re operating anywhere where there are old mill properties that have these small hydro plants. We have rehabilitated plants in New York, in Vermont, in Rhode Island and in North Carolina.
SH: So why are you here in St. Lawrence county?
TR: Because there’s a lot of water here! Small hydro is a business, an industry that obviously followed the water and electricity generation that followed the manufacturing and so we’re sort of picking up the rear. And we’re here because that legacy is here as well.
SH: So tell me a little bit about the idea to provide St Lawrence County with power.
TR: The County is not unlike a lot of entities that we work with that are interested in having some portion of their electricity purchases fixed in terms of price. all electricity consumers, we don’t know what we’re going to be paying three years from now, five years from now. And it’s one thing for us as consumers, residences, but it’s another thing if you’re a business or a government that has to actually plan on it. So St. Lawrence County is interested in that and be connected to a small hydro facility that’s in the neighborhood.
SH: Tell me about the pricing part of this. How do you guys provide advantageous pricing to your customers?
TR: Well what we do is we’re utilizing a New York State law that allows those customers to connect to a hydro plant as if it was on their own property. So we help facilitate that and in the process they are able to have stability in their electric prices and be connected to a facility.
SH: So it is remote net metering. That’s what remote net metering is.
TR: That’s what remote net metering is. In December, we announced that the County wants to make this commitment to a small hydro plant. And we’ve been working with the county since then to make it a reality.
SH: But as I understand the Public Service Commission threw a wrench in that plan. Can you explain?
OE: The Public Service Commission made some unexpected changes to the remote net metering mechanism that materially changes the structure of the transaction.
TR: They were considering making a change and then they got a lot of feedback from folks all around the state, and now they’re not making that change, essentially.
SH: So when the Public Service Commission — when they started to make this decision back in December, what did they decide and how does it affect you?
TR: Well I think the Public Service Commission was searching for how this clearly impactful program should work. And they made a change for essentially saying instead of have everything measured by dollars it should be measured by the amount of energy that’s generated at a plant. It sounds like kind of a small change. I think they kind of thought it was. But it had a lot of impacts on a lot of people doing a lot of different projects — not just small hydro, but solar, wind projects. Now they’ve gone back and said they’re going to take more time to make that decision.
SH: So now, at the plants that you have in New York state, remote net metering still happens in dollars?
TR: That’s right, for now.
SH: How does that change what you do? Does it change what you do?
OE: It doesn’t change what we do. It means we have to continue to be creative about how we approach these projects but ultimately it’s about establishing what the goals and interests are for the different parties involved in a project and seeing where that overlap is. The rules are constantly changing, the market is constantly changing, and that’s the fun part of this business is figuring out what works both today and long term.
SH: Where does that leave you as you negotiate with St. Lawrence county?
TR: Well I mean we’re committed to giving the County what it’s looking for. Which is a project that will be able to be conserved and predictable energy pricing for years to come.