Two area businesses have taken their products to astronomical heights — literally.
Corning Inc., based in Keene, and Optical Solutions Inc. in Charlestown contributed to the James Webb Space Telescope that launched this past Christmas.
The telescope is a successor to the Hubble and is NASA’s most powerful telescope to date.
It captures images using a Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam), which detects light from the earliest stars, galaxies being formed and even faint objects in other solar systems. The telescope does this by accessing the near-infrared and mid-infrared wavelengths with unprecedented resolution.
NIRCam includes 90 lenses made by Optical Solutions.
“[We] made every single lens in that thing,” said company President Brad Piccirillo.
Piccirillo founded Optical Solutions in 1996, and said he was asked by Lockheed Martin about 20 years ago to work on the project.
With NASA’s release of images from the telescope on July 12, Piccirillo called working on the project more than a lifelong achievement.
Marcia Rieke, principal investigator of NIRCam, praised Optical Solutions in a 2010 letter to the company.
“The tolerances on the lenses that [Optical Solutions] has made and tested are unprecedented,” she said in the letter, which Piccirillo provided to The Sentinel. “... [Optical Solutions’] optics will record images of the youngest, most distant stars and galaxies ever seen in the Universe as well as images of planets around other stars and regions of star birth in galaxies not yet discovered.”
The James Webb Space Telescope also uses instruments made at the Corning manufacturing plant in Keene.
“One thing we can count on is that every image uses the guidance sensor,” said Jeff Santman, a senior engineer who led the telescope project at Corning. The company also contributed a slitless spectrograph — an instrument that breaks light into colors for analysis. Santman said the spectograph makes it possible to determine the chemical makeup of objects viewed by the telescope.
He said about 75 to 100 employees from the Keene plant worked on the project from 2004 to 2010.
“We’re really pumped,” Santman, who has been at Corning for 22 years, said. “First, it’s a great honor to see what we worked on here ... it’s the pinnacle of your career.
“It’s the kind of stuff you tell your grandkids.”
In a move energy experts believe will transform the state’s energy market, the Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday unanimously approved community power rules that will allow cities and towns to save money and prioritize renewable energy.
The rules advance efforts that date back more than 25 years to bring down New Hampshire’s high energy costs by enabling market competition. The vote comes as the cost of electricity is set to spike in August.
The PUC has rejected other measures that would reduce demand for electricity, like its November decision to deny the state’s energy efficiency plan and slash funding for energy efficiency, a move reversed by House Bill 549. The commission’s makeup has since changed, with the addition of two new members.
Proponents say allowing communities to band together will bring big benefits, including lower energy costs through increased competition and greater control over buying energy when it’s cheapest. And clean energy advocates see community power as a way for localities to opt for renewable energy.
“This gives people some hope in the face of 22-cent retail electricity,” said Consumer Advocate Don Kreis. “This is an avenue for communities to take that challenge into their own hands and see what creative, dynamic, future-oriented energy policy can do for people’s electricity bills.”
Without rules in place, the commission has already rejected five community power plans put before it, including proposals by Keene, Harrisville, Rye, Hanover, and Lebanon. The new rules will clear at least one barrier for communities that wish to start purchasing power for themselves by creating a framework for community power programs.
The rules cover the formation of community power programs and set ground rules about how utilities interact with them, like what information utilities must share and how often. They also establish requirements for protecting consumers’ data and ensuring it remains anonymous.
“These are landmark rules as they realize some of the main efforts that have spanned two decades here in New Hampshire,” said PUC Commissioner Carleton Simpson, ahead of the commission’s vote during a hearing on Wednesday.
The rules were originally proposed by the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire in December. The commission accepted public comment on the rules in March and used some of the input from the public and utilities to make adjustments. Those final changes were approved unanimously by the commission Wednesday.
Simpson said the rules advance efforts that have been underway since 1996, when utilities were restructured and required to sell off power generation with the hope of allowing for market competition and reducing energy costs.
But the state has struggled to deliver on that promise. And while residents have the option of purchasing energy on the competitive market, few actually do so. Some may be unaware they have the option, and signing up requires additional research and effort. Simpson said community power can change that.
“Promulgation of these rules before us today, I believe, will transform the state’s electricity supply market by enabling communities to select their supplier and resource mix directly,” he said. Now, he said, “citizens of every New Hampshire community have a voice to directly express what they want as an electricity customer.”
Proponents of community power praised the commission’s decision, which followed multiple delays.
Now that the rules have cleared the PUC, they also require approval from the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules, which will next meet Aug. 18.
“I am really glad that the PUC has finally approved its rules, and I hope that JLCAR speedily adopts them verbatim,” Kreis said.
Proponents of community power such as Kreis have been pointing to it as one possible solution as the state faces surging energy prices. Community power programs can go to market more often than the regulated utilities, which allows them to buy energy when it’s cheap and keep costs down for customers.
Simpson pointed to other states where community power has already been successful. States that already allow for community power include Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, California, Ohio, and Illinois.
“This puts every community in a position to have a say in where their energy comes from, and to do so in a way that accesses market prices and lowers costs for folks,” said Henry Herndon, an energy consultant affiliated with the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire.
“It’s transformative,” he said.
To understand the causes and effects of the current drought in New Hampshire, one very important thing to understand is snow. That’s because the state’s snowpack — compressed snow on the ground in winter months — serves as a large source for replenishing the state’s aquifers and groundwater supplies.
According to last week’s U.S. Drought Monitor Report, the majority of New Hampshire was experiencing moderate drought conditions with severe drought existing in a swath along the southeastern border with Massachusetts.
University of New Hampshire Geography Professor and State Climatologist Mary Stampone said there’s no magic number for how much precipitation is needed to relieve current drought conditions, but she pointed to snowfall as an important source of precipitation that is growing more and more variable due to climate change.
“One thing that climate change does is that it exacerbates the extremes,” says Stampone. “We see a lot of variability from year to year, and overall we’re seeing a steady decrease in the length of the snow-cover season.”
Stampone, who consults and advises the drought management team which makes policy decisions for the state, says having a lot of snow doesn’t help if it melts by mid February — as the trend has been in recent years — rather than the end of March or April.
“We’re seeing a snowpack happening later in the fall and melting earlier in the spring,” she said, adding that there are also more mid-winter thaws happening during the season which leads to more surface runoff because of the frozen ground, and a decrease in snowpack thickness.
Stampone says the snowpack that ends up in the state’s groundwater supplies is critical going into growing season because it serves to offset the effects of summer heat.
During the growing season, which occurs during the summer months when temperatures rise, evaporation of water in the soil occurs and this can be the cause of stress for vegetation.
The National Drought Mitigation Center’s Vegetation Drought Response Index is a geospatial model that depicts drought stress on vegetation across the United States. In New Hampshire, the current model shows nearly half of the state’s vegetation near normal on July 24, with 33 percent in pre-drought conditions, 11.67 moderate conditions and 2.47 percent experiencing severe drought effects.
The effects of drought are being felt this summer for farmers Ariane and Tom Ice, who own The Farm at Wolf Pine Hollow in Hancock.
“It has been all about the water this year,” said Ariane Ice, referring to the couple’s investment in new equipment as well as labor costs associated with maintaining their farm during this summer’s drought.
The farm, in its second year of operation, grows a variety of flowers, berries, vegetables, as well as apples and pumpkins. Ice says most of the plants on the farm are only one year old and still being established. When one of the ponds used for irrigation recently went dry because it was being used full time, Ice said she and her husband were forced to invest in a new gasoline powered transfer pump that now runs throughout the day.
“The economic hit has been devastating,” Ice said, referring to the cost of unexpected purchases to maintain the farm’s crops, including the cost of gasoline, hoses, irrigation wheels and a new pump. “From our standpoint we’re a new farm trying to establish everything. We’re lucky we have college interns this summer but they’re spending 60 percent on irrigation and that takes away other things we’d like to be focused on.”
Drought can affect water levels of ponds and streams used by firefighters
For firefighters in towns like Peterborough that have municipal water supplies, fire trucks can pull up to hydrants that are on a computer program allowing dispatchers to locate hydrants.
“In Dublin, we don’t have that luxury,” said Dublin Fire Chief Tom Vanderbilt. “We have dry hydrants which are basically a pipe into a water source, and we have to hook the truck up and pump out of static water sources.”
The advantage of having dry hydrants is that in the winter, his department and others like it can hook onto those hydrants and not have to cut their way through ice and snow, Vanderbilt said.
So far this year Vanderbilt said his department hasn’t seen anything out of the norm in terms of fires.
“We’re blessed not to have the issues they’re having out west,” he said. “California used to see most of its wildfires in the summer and now it’s 365 days a year. We’re seeing the effects of climate change there, and seeing it here as well. It’s not normally in the 90s as long as it has been.”
Peterborough Fire Chief Ed Walker said his department and others in nearby towns are impacted by drought in two ways: increased wildfire risk and access to fire hydrants.
“As the ground dries out, fires move a lot faster,” he said, adding that when there is a short period of drought, it’s not as big of a problem because it stays on the surface. “When you get into long droughts, you get dryness down into the various layers of duff which includes decomposed material, like leaves and pine needles. In really dry weather, fire burns down and it becomes difficult to extinguish.”
This was the case in Greenfield on July 4 when a fire scorched nearly three acres of land, requiring a fire response from various departments as well as state forestry deputies and forest rangers.
Fire Chief in Francestown, Larry Kullgren, who is also a call firefighter for the N.H. Division of Forest and Lands, serving as a special deputy, said that fire began burning into the duff and took two days to fully extinguish.
“Local resources were initially called and on day two the New Hampshire Division of Forest and Land sent special deputies and several forest rangers,” he said, adding that at this time the ponds and major streams that his department and others draw from are still adequate sources of water.
And while wildfires in New England remain uncommon, Kullgren said the loss of trees due to the Emerald Ash Bore and other insects could pose a problem in the future.
“Because of population density in New Hampshire, fires are typically detected at small size and we’re able to get people there to keep it within a reasonable size fire,” he said, adding that some communities have had fires burning between 5 to 10 acres.
Walker said another reason for the lack of massive wildfires in New England is because the region doesn’t typically experience long periods of exceptionally dry weather and that the humidity keeps vegetation that’s alive from drying out.
When it comes to fighting fires, he said Peterborough is fortunate to have municipal water systems —unlike smaller towns like Dublin and Francestown — with access to fire hydrants.
“In areas that don’t have municipal water systems, they’re relying on static water sources,” he said. “If you drive around you’ll notice the water levels in some ponds, and streams, and lakes are really really low. That can make it difficult for fire departments to access water for fire fighting.”
Walker said the town of Peterborough is currently working with Jaffrey to establish a new well near the town of Sharon at Cold Stone Springs.
“Currently, Peterborough’s wells all use the same aquifer. This new well will be using a totally separate aquifer,” he said, explaining that this new well will do two things. “It will increase the town’s capacity to deliver water and create redundancy which could aid in times of drought.
“The town’s water system dead ends on 202 South just past New Hampshire Ball Bearing,” he said. “The new well will be connecting in there and create redundancy with the system itself. This will allow 202 south to have water from two different directions.”
As for where this season’s drought is headed, Stampone said it depends on the weather, adding that global warming and future policy decisions will play a role in how drought-related problems impact the region.
“As I always say going into a warm season, we know it’s going to get warmer and the atmosphere is going to take more water out of the soil,” Stampone said. “What we don’t know is how much precipitation we’re going to get. As output increases as summer seasons warm in response to global warming, we’re more vulnerable to these rapid onset droughts that happen after we have a dry period in our weather, and that gets exacerbated and turns into drought.”
As an investigation continues into the gallons of fentanyl solution lost and unaccounted for at Cheshire Medical Center, the Keene hospital has named a new interim chief nursing officer, and a pharmacist tied to the incident has reached a settlement with the state.
Anne Tyrol, associate chief nursing officer at Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon — also an affiliate of Dartmouth Health — is Cheshire Medical’s acting chief nursing officer, a hospital spokesman told The Sentinel on Thursday.
She succeeds Amy Matthews, whose license was temporarily suspended due to the months-long incident.
Meanwhile, former Cheshire Medical pharmacist Richard Crowe settled with the N.H. Board of Pharmacy last week to resolve all disciplinary actions against him. In doing so, he is restricted from practicing as a hospital pharmacist, among other stipulations.
Chief nursing officer
Cheshire Medical spokesman Matthew Barone has repeatedly declined to say whether Matthews is still an employee there, including on Thursday, citing a “long-standing practice ... [to] not comment on specific questions related to personnel.”
But that same day, Barone did say that Tyrol has been Cheshire Medical’s acting chief nursing officer since mid-June.
She has worked at Cheshire Medical Center since 2000, and as chief nursing officer since 2018, according to her testimony during the hearing.
Matthews was never accused of stealing the drugs, but was sanctioned due to her supervisory role.
An ICU nurse self-reported in February that she’d stolen hundreds of bags of fentanyl solution from the hospital, according to documents from the N.H. Office of Professional Licensure and Certification (OPLC).
However, following the nurse’s death in March and after remedial measures were put in place, the documents state that drugs still went missing, prompting Matthews’ license suspension.
The N.H. Board of Pharmacy suspended Richard Crowe’s license March 30, and on April 19, he signed a preliminary agreement not to practice.
That agreement stipulates it would only be in effect until a final deposition on the matter.
Crowe reached a settlement agreement with the board on July 20, in which he admitted to failing to “recognize months long patterns” of drug loss and diversion, among other violations of board policy.
As part of his settlement, he is not allowed to practice as a hospital pharmacist. However, if after three years of complying with the agreement he would like to practice again, he can petition the state pharmacy board to lift the restriction.
The agreement says he has been a licensed pharmacist in New Hampshire since 1992 and was not subject to any disciplinary action before this year.
Under the settlement, Crowe is required to pay a $1,000 fine, half of which is suspended for three years pending his successful execution of the settlement agreement.
He also must participate in 16 hours of board-approved education courses within 180 days on controlled-substance security, storage and documentation, according to the nine-page settlement.
This is in addition to the hours required for license renewal, but the agreement does not specify how many that is. According to the OPLC’s website, Crowe’s license is active.
Crowe — who also was not accused of stealing the drugs — must continue to comply with the investigation into Cheshire Medical’s drug loss, the settlement notes.
That criminal investigation, by the Drug Enforcement Administration, is ongoing, a spokeswoman for the federal agency said Wednesday.
Other disciplinary action
In connection with the substance diversion, the pharmacy board also suspended the license of Pharmacy Director Melissa Siciliano in March, the same day as Crowe’s.
Siciliano’s license was reinstated in mid-April. She was also disciplined in her supervisory capacity, and was not implicated in the drug diversion itself.
Siciliano reached a settlement agreement with the state last week, requiring her to pay a fine and banning her from acting as a pharmacist-in-charge — as she did at Cheshire Medical, in addition to her role as director of pharmacy — for three years.
Prior to that settlement, Siciliano resigned from her role at Cheshire Medical. She still works in pharmacy, according to her attorney, Rick Fradette.