McKees Solar Park

Newarkers will soon have the option to pay a bit more for electricity in order to have their power come from 100 percent renewable sources, such as McKees Solar Park off Cleveland Avenue, pictured here.

More than most challenges, protecting our planet from the worst effects of climate change is a collective responsibility and requires collective action. Scientists predict that worldwide CO2 emissions must drop by about 25 percent over 2010 levels by 2030 to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (or about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Even at that level of warming, people will have to adapt to more extreme weather, from heat waves and droughts to heavy rainfall, in addition to a loss of biodiversity, sea level rise and increased disease.

But what can be done locally to help reach this goal? Almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in Delaware stems from electricity generation. Transitioning the electricity supply to renewable sources is therefore imperative. As a homeowner, one can install solar panels, provided one has enough direct sunshine on the roof and the necessary means to finance such a project. For many, including renters, however, this is not an option.

This is where the City of Newark’s new renewable energy program comes in: Come June 1, 2021, it will give everyone the option to get all electricity from renewable sources only.

How will it work?

The set-up is simple. Any new customers will be automatically enrolled (but have the choice to opt out), while existing customers can opt in by completing a form that will be available on the city’s website. Look for it by the middle of May. The city will purchase renewable energy for those enrolled, including the corresponding Renewable Energy Credits, which track the environmental value of green energy. (See our earlier Conservation Corner on RECs.)

How much will it cost?

At this time, renewable electricity is still a bit more expensive on the market than the conventional mix. So, participating customers are asked to make up the difference in price. While this added cost will vary with the energy market and is expected to be adjusted annually, the city is initially setting it at $1.50 per 100 kwh. For a monthly usage of 1,000 kwh, which is typical for peak usage in the summer, that means a surcharge of $15 on the electric bill. Of course, those who use less energy also pay less of a surcharge. The additional cost amounts to about a 10 percent increase over the base rate.

What about McKees and Newark’s new solar installations?

Newark is proud owner and operator of a field of solar panels off Cleveland Avenue that has been operational since 2014. It produces enough electricity to power roughly 30 homes each year. City council recently approved an expansion to this solar park and additional installation of solar panels on the roofs of several city buildings. This new solar capacity is expected to come online in about a year and will produce enough electricity to power about an additional 170 homes. These assets will be the preferred source for the program, followed by assets owned by other DEMEC cities. (DEMEC is the energy cooperative Newark belongs to, along with several other Delaware cities, to leverage their joint purchasing power.) Beyond that, the principle is to buy the renewable energy from sources as local as possible, from within the state, then within the region, then within the PJM market.

But wait, won’t my commitment just let someone else off the hook to meet renewable energy standards?

No: Any commitments under this program are not counted toward Newark’s required renewable energy percentage. As the portion of renewable energy in the general mix increases, the surcharge for those committing to 100 percent renewable will decrease to reflect the shrinking additional cost.

With its Sustainability Plan of 2019, Newark committed itself to a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by no later than 2045. Until costs of wind and solar become even more competitive than they already are, however, not everyone in our community can afford to make that jump today. For them, the city continues to buy electricity from the most cost-effective sources. For the rest, however, it is time to commit to slow greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, to protect our state from sea level rise, beach erosion, and the battering of severe storms and hurricanes, to keep the climate livable for our wildlife and for us.

Newark’s Renewable Energy Program makes that easy. Don’t forget to enroll, starting the middle of May for a June 1 start date.

The Conservation Advisory Commission was created in 1977 to advise the city of Newark in the development, management and protection of its natural resources, with appropriate consideration of Newark’s human and economic resources. It meets the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. in council chambers. The public is invited to attend and provide input. Commission members provide this monthly column to inform area residents on conservation issues.

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