The starting gun has been fired on the most interesting energy change New Hampshire has seen in decades and Warner, the Concord area’s lone participant, is heading out of the blocks.
“We’re kind of at the beginning of it all,” said Select Board Chair Clyde Carson, the town’s representative to the new Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire, which was formally incorporated earlier this month. Thirteen towns and cities as well as one county (Cheshire), covering about 15% of the state population, will be joining forces to buy electricity and sell it in their borders, giving residents options other than the resident utility.
“The excitement when the coalition formally received papers from the state that said you’re an organization now – it was really exciting,” said George Packard, a town resident who is an alternate with the coalition and was at the official signing. “It was one of those rare times when you look around and feel almost giddy with excitement, thinking about what this organization and group of towns, which hopefully get bigger as time goes on, could accomplish.”
Power coalition’s appeal is twofold. When communities join forces, the argument goes, they can buy electricity more cheaply than is provided by regulated utilities and can buy electricity that is cleaner, meaning produced by more renewable or carbon-free sources. Whether power can be both cheaper and greener at the same time remains to be seen.
But those aren’t the only benefits, Packard said. “What excites me most about community power is control. Long-term contracts, stability of prices, flexibility … all those.”
The coalition also reflects ways that the electricity system is changing, even more dramatically than after deregulation split electricity transmission and generation into separate businesses. The change is driven largely by solar power, which for the first time makes it feasible to generate electricity on site instead of relying only on wires carrying electricity from large power plants that are far away.
“As towns begin to put this in place … I think in general there will be a re-evalatuion of what the energy marketplace is. There’s more room for smaller, independent producers to set up shop whether solar, hydro, whatever, and I think Eversource may realize there can be new opportunities for them as well,” said Packard.
Community Power was made possible by 2019 legislation that amended RSA 53-E, also known as the Community Power Law. Once Warner gets going – probably not until 2023 and then only if town meeting approves – all residents would have the option to stay with their current utility or switch to whatever alternatives the coalition has negotiated.
The community power program will oversee the program and operate the back end processes such as billing. The cost is being covered by grants and later will be covered by a fee attached to the electric rates of participating customers. No town funds will be involved, Packard noted: “That’s important for people to realize.”
Carson said the group’s immediate plans are to spread the word. “Our discussions are about how do we reach out to the community, have a conversation about what (community power) is, what the benefits are.”
“It important to explain that this is the town doing whatever any large group of electric customers can do, what big corporations do – negotiate rates and suppliers,” said Packard. He noted that Warner has a history of embracing energy alternatives, having built solar arrays to cover electricity use by municipal buildings and its water treatment plant.
Participating communities are the cities of Nashua, Lebanon, and Dover, and the towns of Hanover, Harrisville, Exeter, Rye, Warner, Walpole, Plainfield, Newmarket, Enfield and Durham, as well as Cheshire County. Each community has appointed a director and an alternate to serve on the coalition’s Board of Directors.
Some towns, especially Hanover and Harrisville, are ahead in preparations and may present options at town meeting in 2022.