Solar array

Keene’s community power plan, a key part of the city’s goal to reach 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030, will head to the City Council next month after receiving a unanimous recommendation from a committee Thursday.

The council’s five-member Finance, Organization and Personnel Committee recommended the plan at its meeting that night after hearing a presentation on the proposal.

Under a community power arrangement, the municipal government, rather than a utility, sources electricity for local consumers. That gives the municipality more control over the power supply, allowing it to seek lower-cost or greener options. A utility like Eversource continues to maintain transmission lines and deliver the electricity.

Under Keene’s plan, consumers could choose between several different pricing options, each with a different degree of renewable energy.

Recent changes to state law have made such programs possible in New Hampshire. City Manager Elizabeth Dragon said Keene is leading the pack in implementing its plan, which would require approval from the N.H. Public Utilities Commission.

“I hate to say it, but I’m a little bit competitive, and on the track that we’re in right now, we’ll be the first one to get a community power plan in front of the PUC,” Dragon said at Thursday’s meeting. “There’s one other community that’s not far behind us.”

A number of other towns and cities in New Hampshire are considering community power programs, including Harrisville, which is scheduled to vote on its plan at town meeting May 22. Cheshire County officials have also expressed interest in community power, as have advocates in Peterborough.

The community power program would be Keene’s first major policy initiative implementing the ambitious clean-energy goals the City Council adopted in January 2019 — shifting the entire city to 100 percent renewable energy for electricity by 2030, and for transportation and heating by 2050. Earlier this year, the council approved a detailed roadmap for working toward those goals.

The city’s draft community power plan envisions four options that customers can choose from. The cheapest would pay for the bare minimum of renewables — the roughly 22 percent, as of this year, required under New Hampshire’s renewable portfolio standard law. That would match the level of renewables in Eversource’s default service, according to the plan.

By default, community-power customers would be enrolled in a second option, which would come with somewhat more renewable power — perhaps an extra 10 percent to start — at a price competitive with Eversource’s default rate.

For customers who want to pay more to further boost clean energy, the plan would offer two additional options — up to 50 percent and 100 percent above the renewable portfolio standard, respectively. Customers can also opt out of the program entirely.

“The idea is to provide kind of a range of options that meet people’s needs for using renewable energy and for cost,” Patrick Roche of Good Power LP, a consultant working with the city, explained at Thursday’s meeting.

Peter Hansel of Keene, who chaired the volunteer committee tasked with developing the plan, said the group’s priorities included cost savings, public buy-in and the flexibility to adapt to new technologies in addition to promoting clean energy.

In energy markets, the use of renewables is tracked with certificates called renewable energy credits, or RECs. Once it’s flowing through the grid, electricity produced by solar or wind is indistinguishable from any other electricity, so it’s not possible to determine the literal source of the electricity someone’s using, Roche explained. Buying RECs is how entities claim the credit for a certain amount of renewable power.

Roche said the city would obtain RECs from sources on the New England power grid, or nearby regions that export power to New England, to help spur more development of renewables in this part of the country. The program would also aim to get power from as close to Keene as possible.

Dragon said the city would aim expect to increase the renewable energy it buys over time.

“This plan also allows us to gradually increase our renewable option, and move toward our 100 percent renewable goal for the city,” she said. “It’s really the only way for us to do that.”

The specific prices and levels of renewable energy would be determined through the bidding process. Dragon said the plan gives the city “maximum flexibility” to evaluate bidders to make sure their rates are competitive with Eversource, and also take advantage of timing to secure better prices.

The City Council would have to approve the community power plan and any amendments to it. The city’s consultants — Good Power and Standard Power LLC — would handle day-to-day operations, overseen by the city manager. (Their fees would be included in the contract with the energy supplier, rather than coming out of tax dollars.)

Councilors asked a handful of mostly process-focused questions Thursday before voting on the plan.

Keene resident Robert King, president of Ashuelot River Hydro Inc., told councilors the program may be able to draw on existing local resources, like his company’s three area hydro plants, for some of its energy supply.

He also praised the plan for stating that the city will use the community power program to promote energy efficiency.

“Which is always the cheapest, easiest form of energy to come up with,” he said. “We call it nega-watts, as opposed to mega-watts.”

Paul Cuno-Booth can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1409, or pbooth@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @PCunoBoothKS.