Community-power rules provide new momentum for local plans

·4 min read

Aug. 6—With rules for community-power programs in New Hampshire closer to being finalized, some area municipalities are eager to provide relief to customers amid soaring energy costs.

Keene resubmitted its plan to the N.H. Public Utilities Commission earlier this week, according to Mari Brunner, the city's senior planner. Prior to doing so, she said, the city's consulting team — which includes representatives of Standard Power and Good Energy — reviewed the rules and made minor changes.

"We are hopeful [Keene's plan] will be approved by the PUC," Brunner wrote. "If it is approved, the next step would be to get City Council approval for the changes that were made."

Under a community-power arrangement — such as the ones Keene and Harrisville approved last year, and Swanzey, Marlborough, Peterborough and Walpole earlier this year — a municipal government rather than a utility sources electricity for local consumers. This gives the municipality more control over the power supply, allowing it to seek lower-cost or greener options, while a utility continues to maintain transmission lines and deliver the electricity.

Each of these plans must get a green light from the PUC, which first needed to approve rules for community-power programs after a state law authorized them in 2019.

After a vote on the rules was delayed from July 5, the commission approved them last week, allowing municipalities with community-power plans to move forward in their goal for state approval.

The Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules must also OK the rules in a meeting slated for Aug. 18, before the PUC can formally adopt them.

Robert Hayden, president and chief technical officer of Standard Power of America, which also worked with Swanzey on its plan, said Thursday that the PUC must respond to Keene's resubmitted plan within 60 days.

Brunner added that the city hopes to implement the plan in January, but it is more realistic it will launch in the spring.

Andrew Maneval, a member of the Harrisville electric-aggregation committee, said he expects the town to resubmit its plan within a matter of weeks.

If Harrisville's plan is approved by the PUC, Maneval said the committee would then look to implement it and seek a suitable energy provider to recommend to the selectboard for approval.

Maneval, who is also a Democratic state representative, said Harrisville is optimistic that the power plan could launch next spring.

Meanwhile, energy rates continue to soar, driven partially by high oil and natural gas prices stemming from Russia's war in Ukraine. Liberty Utilities and Eversource both raised rates for residential customers, effective Aug. 1, swelling electric bills by around 50 percent.

"The sooner [the PUC] responds, the sooner we can offer relief to customers," Hayden said, referencing Keene's plan. "Costs are the highest they've ever been. Any relief is great."

The higher energy rates make it vital that the city's community-power plan moves forward, Brunner said.

"I think it is extremely important for communities to have more local control over where their energy comes from in order to control costs," she wrote. "We hope to launch our program as soon as possible to offer our residents a cheaper option for electricity supply (in addition to greener options)."

When the City Council adopted the plan in May 2021, Keene was the first municipality in New Hampshire to pass one of these programs.

The city originally submitted its plan to the state on April 11, but the commission denied it on June 9 without prejudice — meaning it can be resubmitted for approval — due to it still being in the midst of its rulemaking process. At the time, Brunner said Keene had expected the rejection and was merely seeking feedback.

Harrisville's plan was also denied without prejudice, primarily because of the lack of finalized rules.

Keene's community-power plan, which would allow people to opt out of it, is a central tenet of the city's broader plan, which the City Council adopted earlier in 2021, to move to 100 percent renewable sourcing for electricity by 2030 and for thermal and transportation energy by 2050.

Hunter Oberst can be reached at 355-8585, or hoberst@keenesentinel.com.