Monadnock Sustainability Hub

The Monadnock Sustainability Hub has a lofty goal. It wants to help communities across the Monadnock Region meet all their energy needs with renewable energy by 2030. As if that’s not lofty enough, the Hub hopes to see all of the region’s heating and transportation needs met by renewables by 2050.

“We know there is a lot of interest in renewable energies and reducing our carbon footprint, but there hasn’t been any sustained effort on a regional level with the towns,” says Dori Drachman, the chairwoman of the Peterborough Energy Committee, which is a founding member of the organization formerly known as the Monadnock Energy Hub.

“There has been a lot of interest in the Monadnock area in bringing down our carbon footprint, but we haven’t had a structure to keep that synergy going,” she says.

That’s where the Sustainability Hub comes in.

“We collaborate with people, organizations and businesses on climate actions and initiatives that strengthen the sustainability and resilience of our region,” states the organization’s website.

The Monadnock Sustainability Network, which was formed in 2008, recently merged with the Monadnock Energy Hub to form the Monadnock Sustainability Network.

The Network was founded by a group of local, “green-minded” business people who got together to discuss how to promote sustainability in the Monadnock region.

Then, in 2018, a group of Monadnock Region residents started getting together to discuss ways to reduce greenhouse emissions, eventually forming the Monadnock Energy Hub. The nonprofit MSN became the fiscal sponsor for the Energy Hub, and MSN integrated its Community Supported Solar initiative into the Hub. This year, MSN and the Energy Hub merged to form the Sustainability Hub.

The Hub is guided by a steering committee — John Kondos, Ann Shedd, Pat Martin, Peter Wotowiec and Drachman. Mary Ewell is coordinator for the Hub, and she is assisted by Jennifer Zakrzewski.

Much of Ewell’s energy is focused on Solarize Monadnock, a campaign to increase the number of solar installations in households and businesses in the region.

With help from the Hub, Solarize volunteer teams share with their neighbors information on federal, state and local tax incentives for solar energy installations. They can also help folks interested in solar power connect with lending institutions in the area that may be offering favorable rates for solar and energy efficiency improvements. Solarize Monadnock works with solar installers in the region to offer the best rates for those who want to go solar.

“A lot of the work I do is really supportive,” says Ewell, who works with volunteers from interested towns, so they don’t have to start from scratch with their own solarize campaigns. “It’s not just about bringing people together, but also about lifting them up so they can succeed.”

Drachman says the Hub has opened up lines of communication between people who have “been doing their own thing,” not knowing other people in other towns are doing the same thing and have the same interest in reducing the region’s carbon footprint.

“We can help them get the word out to a larger audience,” she says.

In addition to working with homeowners, the Hub works with businesses large and small, notes Ewell.

“The Monadnock Food Co-op has been an important partner for years, even before the merger of the Sustainability Network and the Energy Hub,” she says.

In 2016, the Sustainability Hub and the Co-op hosted a ribbon-cutting for the first locally owned Community Supported Solar system, which was installed on the Co-op’s roof.

Drachman says that in addition to solar power, towns have been showing an interest in community power programs (see related story on page 58).

“The utility companies in New Hampshire are no longer responsible for generating electricity,” says Drachman. “Their business is mostly about the transmission and distribution of energy. This opens up the possibility for consumers to get their energy from other sources, including renewable sources.”

A community power program allows a city, town or county to purchase electricity for its community members, which can lower costs. But more than that, a community power program allows town residents to determine where they get their electricity.

“Community power is a game-changer,” says Drachman. “There is a lot of excitement, but there’s a lot of groundwork that needs to happen before we can implement anything.”

That’s where the Sustainability Hub can help out. The Monadnock Sustainability Hub is a supporting partner of Community Power of New Hampshire founded in 2020 by local and regional energy committees, town managers and sustainability staff, elected officials, city energy managers, county administrators and regional planning commissions.

The Community Power Law, which was enacted by the state in the fall of 2019, enabled local governments to procure and provide electricity on behalf of their residents and businesses. But wholesale electricity purchases and retail electricity sales and services require economies of scale beyond most municipal governments’ capacities.

CPNH was established to guide communities through the process of designing their own community power programs. Other communities that may not have the resources to dedicate to energy purchases can become partners with CPNH, which plans to do that kind of work as well.

“Participating communities will have the ability to craft their own energy portfolios and evolve them over time, making decisions about energy supply rates, renewable energy content, and surplus revenue allocation,” states a press release from CPNH.

Drachman says “energy advocates” across the Monadnock Region can turn to the hub to help their neighbors find ways to reduce their carbon footprints, whether in their households, in their towns or the region.

The Hub is hosting a virtual annual meeting on Oct. 28, starting at 4:30 p.m. To learn more about the meeting or how to connect directly with the Hub, visit monadnocksustainabilityhub.org

Robert Audette writes from Swanzey, New Hampshire.