We were excited by yesterday’s TAPinto news that the South Brunswick City Council has unanimously passed a Community Energy Aggregation (CEA) Program. The program supports the bulk purchasing of clean energy for township residents and a transition to 100% clean energy use by 2030. The article cites other Middlesex County towns that have also recently adopted CEA programs: New Brunswick, East Brunswick and Edison.
Where’s Piscataway? That’s a good question. In 2019, when our Town Council refused to consider a CEA Clean Air ordinance, Piscataway residents won a ballot initiative by a 64%-36% margin to enact our own PCEA. Township officials were mandated to negotiate a first contract with clean energy providers in 2020. They have done that, but have they done it in good faith?
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Over the past year, Mayor Wahler has used the Township newsletter to repeatedly disparage the PCEA as a policy he did not support, imposed by outsiders—like 64% of the voters? The Township negotiated a contract with Energy Harbor, managed by Good Energy, behind closed doors. Concerned residents were not invited to give input or comment. This contract does not include adequate customer service for confusing billing practices, which unfortunately many experienced this summer from both Energy Harbor and PSE&G. Nor were Budget Billing customers adequately protected.
Mayor Wahler and the Council could have stepped up to demand better service. The Mayor and Council could have provided an energy hotline and held information sessions on the Town broadcast station. They could have helped low-income residents get state assistance for their utility bills. PCEA supporters would have joined to help, as we did independently, deciphering billing errors and holding our own livestream town halls in June and October.
Mayor Wahler and the Council could have explained the cost benefits of the PCEA over time, as clean energy supplies replace fossil fuels on a larger scale. They could have educated residents about the health benefits of cleaner energy in our highly polluted area—though that might just put their misguided trucking and warehouse development policies in question! They could have shown how the PCEA contributes to a sustainability plan for climate crisis, if they had such a plan.
The price of democracy is eternal vigilance, especially in Piscataway it seems. We can’t afford to let the Mayor and Council subvert the environmental progress we’ve achieved. So let’s set some standards for how they negotiate a new contract for the PCEA this October:
Seriously explore a consortium with the other CEA towns in Middlesex County to getter even cheaper bulk purchasing rates for 2021-22.
Include customer service mandates and performance ratings in the next PCEA contract as part of the bidding process, and ensure that Budget Billing customers are fully served.
Create (and staff) an Office of Sustainability to assist residents in using the PCEA and also to secure state grants for energy savings, like home weatherization.
Turn the Mayor’s newly announced “Green Initiatives Committee” into a full scale Environmental Commission, open to the public and abiding by sunshine laws, as in other towns.
Refuse campaign contributions, direct or passed through, from any corporate entities or individuals that stand to profit from energy sales in Piscataway.
Mayor Wahler may encourage folks to opt out of the PCEA, but none of us gets to opt out of climate change, and its growing cost to our environment and health. Nearby towns are moving forward, and Piscataway needs to move with them.