Monadnock Perspectives: Community power plans move forward

By ASHLEY SAARI

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 03-28-2023 9:02 AM

Towns across the Monadnock region are poised to launch community power programs this year, with several communities taking up the issue during Town Meeting and others rolling out their programs this spring after already gaining approvals.

In Peterborough, customers are expected to see adjusted rates as soon as May.

Several communities had potential plans in front of voters this year, after the Public Utilities Commission adopted rules paving the way for community power programs, which allow communities – including towns – to combine their residents’ electricity usage, and leverage the collective buying power to negotiate lower rates among energy providers.

Currently, the majority of electricity users in New Hampshire receive their power supply from Eversource’s default supplier. Others have opted out of the default and sought out alternate, often cheaper, suppliers, particularly when energy costs spiked last fall.

Most of the area’s community power plans operate on similar principles, offering multiple rates to choose from, depending upon how much renewable energy supply is in the mix. Most towns have elected a default rate that has a higher amount of renewable sources than Eversource’s default, but will also offer rates with only the state minimum renewable requirements, or a 50 percent or 100 percent renewable rate.

Towns are automatically enrolling all Eversource default customers, unless they choose to opt out of the program. Those receiving their energy source from another supplier already have the option to opt in.

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In all cases, Eversource remains the distributor for the energy supply, and will continue to distribute the bills and respond to emergencies such as power outages due to storms or accidents.

Dublin

Dublin will be exploring the option of opting into Cheshire County’s Community Power plan, after voters approved a warrant article on March 18.

Cheshire County is a member of the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire, or CPCNH, and any town within the county has the opportunity to join the coalition. Some towns, such as Jaffrey and Wilton, have struck out on their own or joined with other towns and have or plan to seek individual rates.

With the passing of the warrant article at Town Meeting, the town will move forward with the process of considering community power, including holding public hearings on the issue, as required by law, and could launch its program in the late summer or early fall.

Jaffrey

Voters in Jaffrey were unanimously in favor of adopting community power in a voice vote taken at Town Meeting on March 18.

Selectman Kevin Chamberlain, who also headed a community committee that drafted the town’s proposed community power plan, said he expects the Public Utilities Commission to approve Jaffrey’s plan by the end of April, and hopes to have the plan rolled out and active by July at the earliest or October at the latest.

Hancock

The proposed Hancock Community Power Plan was a key topic at the town’s Town Meeting on March 18, and a more-controversial proposal than in other communities considering plans this year. While the article, which authorized the Select Board to submit the town’s community power plan to the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission for approval, passed in a 98-64 hand count, some voters approached Moderator Richard Haskins to argue that residents had torn their voting cards to share with other people or did not vote due to intimidation, according to Keene Sentinel reports.

Haskins proposed holding a ballot vote on the issue, but remaining voters overruled him, upholding the original vote, as some residents had already left the meeting.

Kathy Anderson, secretary of Hancock’s Community Power Committee, said she had heard some of the same concerns – mainly that residents would have to opt out of the program if they were Eversource default customers, rather than having the option to opt in – during the public hearing process.

In Hancock’s plan, voters will receive a notice by mail 30 days before the rollout of the community power plan. Eversource default customers will have to choose to opt out of the program. Those already receiving power from an alternate source – which is about a quarter of residents – will have to choose to opt in.

Anderson pointed out that Eversource default’s option is also an “opt-out” program.

Anderson said now that approval has been granted by Town Meeting, the town will submit its plan to the Public Utilities Commission for review. The Community Power Committee will also be keeping an eye on plans that are currently rolling out, Anderson said, such as in Peterborough and Keene.

“We’ll see how it rolls out, how people respond, and if there will be any glitches,” Anderson said.

The town expects to review potential energy prices and roll out the program as soon as the fall. 

Peterborough

Peterborough is expecting to launch new rates under the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire (CPCNH) in late April, with customers likely starting to receive power through CPCNH at their meter-read date in May. 

Peterborough, through CPCNH, will be one of the first towns in the region to roll out a community power plan. The town plans to set the town’s default rate as CPCNH’s “Granite Plus” rate, which is 16.2 cents per kilowatt hour. The Granite Plus default rate has 33 percent of the the electricity provided from renewable sources, where the Eversource default is 23.4 percent, at 20 cents per kWh.

Peterborough will also have three other tier options: a basic rate with 15.8 cents per kWh, but less renewable sources; a rate with 50 percent of renewable sources for 16.9 cents per kWh; or 100 percent renewables for 19.1 cents per kWh.

Customers will start to receive notifications on March 28 with enrollment options.

The Peterborough Community Power Committee will hold a public information session Wednesday, April 5, at  6:30 p.m. in the Peterborough Town Library’s 1833 Room.

Wilton

Wilton has partnered with Keene, Marlborough and Swanzey to pool their resources and bid together for community power rates. Earlier this month, the four towns collectively agreed to award the bid to Direct Energy, for a rate that will be set from June until December of 2025.

The rates are 11.47 cents per kWh for the default rate, 11.1 cents for a basic rate, 12.05 cents for 50 percent renewable energy and 13.9 cents for 100 percent renewables.

Wilton Town Administrator Nick Germain said rates could come into effect for Wilton as of June 1. Prior to the rollout, residents will receive notification and rate options at least 30 days before the rollout.

“The town will also be doing raising of awareness, and spelling out their options,” Germain said.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172, Ext. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.

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