New Ipswich could consider community power

By ASHLEY SAARI

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 05-03-2023 11:59 AM

New Ipswich may be the next town to follow in the footsteps of several of its neighbors by adopting community power, after hearing more about the concept from a consultant on Tuesday night.

Ryan Polson, a consultant with Standard Power, spoke to the Select Board Tuesday on the process of adopting a community power plan for the town, and the potential benefits – mainly cost savings for those that enroll in the program. Residents could also choose to receive more renewable energy.

“It’s a way for residents and small businesses of any town to pool together for increased buying power and go out to bid for electric contracts; that’s kind of its core definition,” Polson said, when explaining the concept of community power.

Polson said that pooling together to buy power, and the ability to seek out rates at the most-opportune times, often leads to cheaper prices.

“The utility buys two times a year. They buy two times of the year, at pretty much the worst two times of year you can buy – end of December and end of June – traditionally that’s when electricity costs the most, because it’s the end of winter and the end of summer,” Polson said.

Polson said Eversource expects to reset its rate at the end of August, and while it’s currently projected to come down from its current rate of 20 cents per kilowatt hour, it’s unlikely to dip below the rates secured for the towns about to launch their programs.

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“All of our options are way lower than the default right now,” Polson said.

Several towns in the surrounding area have already adopted community power programs. Peterborough’s program is expected to launch this month, and other are prepared to launch as soon as June, including Keene and Wilton. Jaffrey is expected to follow within the next few months.

Peterborough is partnering with Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire, while Standard Power has acted as a broker for the other communities, helping develop plans and then negotiating bids with third-party electricity suppliers.

Polson said Standard Power is willing to help communities get their programs off the ground, including putting together a community power committee, gathering information through community surveys and writing the community power plan, at no cost to the town. The company receives payment only at the launch of the program, Polson said, and accepts the risk that residents at Town Meeting may vote not to enact the program, or that the town might not decide to move forward at any point in the process.

In order to move forward with a community power plan, the town must form a committee, write a plan and hold at least two public information sessions. Polson said in the experience he has had with the 11 communities that have approved plans, it will take at least eight meetings of the committee to complete that work, though it can be done in a very short amount of time . Wilton, he pointed out, started its process in January of 2021, and had a plan to present to Town Meeting that March.

Typically, Polson said, the towns that have created a program offer several tiers – a default rate, which typically includes about 10 percent more renewable energy than the state minimum, a basic rate that only has the state minimum and is the lowest possible price, a 50 percent renewable rate and a 100 percent renewable rate.

The program, by state law, is an opt-out program for those who are currently enrolled at the Eversource default rate. The towns send information packets and postcards to every eligible resident, who has the option to choose their rate or to opt out of the program. Those who do nothing will be enrolled at the default rate.

Those who currently are purchasing electricity from a third-party supplier will have the option to opt into the program, either by exiting their current contract or when their contract expires.

Polson said those with solar and net-metering programs may find it a better cost savings to continue outside of community power, depending on the age of their system and the net-metering benefits they have. In particular, large energy consumers such as large-scale companies or the town buildings or school district may find better rates on their own. But for the average customer, he said community power can result in a large savings.

The board did not take any votes on the matter Tuesday, but came to an agreement that the matter should be looked into further. If the town were to create a community power program, it could only be enacted by a vote of the public at Town Meeting in 2024.

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

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