Solar array

Keene has become the first New Hampshire municipality to adopt a community power program since the state began allowing them in 2019.

The City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to approve a plan for the program, which would allow Keene to purchase electricity on behalf of consumers. This would give the city more say over where the power used in Keene comes from.

Next, the plan will be sent for consideration to the N.H. Public Utilities Commission.

“This is the culmination of a lot of work by many, many folks in the community, many of them who have volunteered their time to bring this forward to a conclusion,” said Councilor Thomas Powers, chairman of the council’s Planning, Licenses and Development Committee, which unanimously recommended the plan’s approval last month.

“This is not going to cost the taxpayers money,” he added. “This is not something that we’re forcing on anybody. You elect to be part of this program, and I can’t see why you wouldn’t if you can save some money on your energy bill.”

The community power program is a key element of the city’s sweeping energy plan, which the Council passed in January. That broader plan aims to guide the city toward 100 percent renewable sourcing for electricity by 2030 and for thermal and transportation energy by 2050.

The community power program’s approval Thursday follows months of planning by Keene’s ad hoc community power committee, which worked with city staff to craft the proposal. Members of the public were given several opportunities to weigh in.

“[The program] is really the poster child for community members ... coming together with an idea and working on it and pushing it and lending their expertise and their time, working seamlessly with city staff, who worked very hard on this as well,” said Mayor George Hansel during the meeting. “It’s just a perfect example of how a group of people in the community can just get something done. So I’m pretty impressed.”

There are four options within the plan, each at a different cost based on how much power comes from renewable sources. The most affordable package would include the bare minimum amount of renewable energy required under state law. This option is expected to save consumers a small amount of money over the current utility rate, according to city staff.

Current Eversource customers would be automatically placed in the default plan, which would come with a small increase in renewable energy at a rate that is competitive with Eversource’s default rate. There is also a 50 percent renewable plan, which is expected to cost somewhere around $10 more per month, and a 100 percent renewable plan, which is anticipated to cost between $20 and $25 extra monthly — with both options adding to, not replacing, the power that residents already get from renewables.

Those who currently receive their electricity from a third-party provider could continue to do so, and those who are automatically enrolled in the program could opt out and buy their power elsewhere. While the city would become the default supplier of electricity under the community power program, Eversource’s infrastructure would still be used to deliver power to consumers, and energy bills would still be issued by that company.

Keene’s community power plans hit a slight delay earlier this year after N.H. House Bill 315 was introduced in an effort to fine tune the 2019 law that authorized community power programs in the state. City staff and members of the community power committee feared the bill would hinder Keene’s plans, including by increasing the regulatory burden.

However, amendments to the bill satisfied the committee’s concerns. Keene’s plan will still need to be approved by the Public Utilities Commission, which will have 60 days to make a determination. PUC approval is the final step needed before the city can put its plan into action.

The full community power plan can be viewed online at keenecommunitypower.com.

Mia Summerson can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or msummerson@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @MiaSummerson