New Hampshire utilities have a new competitor — many of the municipalities they serve.
On Oct. 1, 13 towns and Cheshire County incorporated the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire, but it’s more than a coalition that advocates for legislation and helps its members. It’s designed to act like a power broker, procuring and delivering energy over the utilities’ transmission lines, like any other energy supplier.
But there is one major difference. Under the new law, municipalities and counties can become the default power supplier for all of those currently on default electric service supplied by the utilities that currently serve New Hampshire customers: Eversource, Unitil, Liberty and the N.H. Electric Cooperative. Now, under the law, if a municipality or county passes a community power plan, every resident and business in it would be covered, unless they opt out. Customers already getting their electricity from a different supplier would have to opt in.
That means a good chunk of the 210,000 residents of those municipalities, which include Dover, Nashua and Lebanon, may be getting their power though community power.
That’s 15 percent of the state’s population. In terms of electric load, the coalition has the potential to be as big as Unitil. And other municipalities could join the group in the future.
But to have that clout, the governing body of the municipalities — which also include the towns of Hanover, Harrisville, Exeter, Rye, Warner, Walpole, Plainfield, Newmarket, Enfield and Durham — would have to vote for a plan and agree to continue to work with the coalition. Incorporation was a big step in that direction.
“This is the most exciting thing to happen to the electricity sector in New Hampshire in decades,” said state Consumer Advocate Don Kreis in a press release about the incorporation. And he later told N.H. Business Review, “It could finally deliver the benefits of restructuring residential customers.”
Kreis thinks the coalition’s clout will be able to do two things: drive down electricity prices and give an array of choices to customers who could “opt on,” such as getting all its energy from renewables, buying locally or using-time-of-day billing to cut usage and their bill. It also enables the towns themselves to become a supplier without having to go through net metering. Lebanon is the furthest along in this regard. It appropriated $2.85 million to develop a one-megawatt landfill gas-to-energy power plant, as well as solar arrays on the rooftops of a number of municipal buildings
That may due to the involvement of Cliff Below, Lebanon’s deputy mayor and a former state senator who helped write the 1996 electricity restructuring law and the primary author of the legislation enabling community power. He is also vice chair of the Community Power Coalition.
“Community power aggregation is a deliberate double entendre,” Below said in the press release. “We will be providing electric power in aggregate to our communities, with the goal of lowering costs and expanding access to renewable energy and other innovations. But the coalition also aggregates the political power of communities so their interests may be better represented in state policy decisions that impact energy.”
Each community power plan has to be approved by the Public Utilities Commission, which still has to promulgate rules on how to do so. This process that has been stalled, along with many other processes at the PUC, as the state continues to set up the new Department of Energy, which will handle many PUC functions.