PLD Committee

Keene city staff and members of the City Council’s Planning, Licenses and Development Committee discuss N.H. House Bill 315 during a meeting held via Zoom Wednesday.

A City Council committee is recommending that Keene take a clear stance against legislation that casts doubt over the city’s plans to implement a community power program.

On Wednesday, the council’s Planning, Licenses and Development Committee voted unanimously to ask the council to voice its formal opposition to N.H. House Bill 315. The city’s Energy and Climate Committee had submitted a communication to the council seeking its support in standing against the bill, which members say would “gut” the law enabling community power programs in the state.

“Passage of HB 315 would have serious consequences on our ability to pursue the community power aggregation and place our whole sustainable energy plan in jeopardy,” energy committee Chairman Peter Hansel wrote in a letter to the legislature that he read aloud at Wednesday’s PLD Committee meeting held over Zoom.

A community power program — a significant component of the city’s extensive plan to obtain all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 — would allow Keene to purchase power on behalf of the city’s residential and commercial consumers. This would give city officials more control over where this electricity comes from.

The Energy and Climate Committee has expressed concerns over several parts of HB 315, which would amend the existing community power law that was signed into law in 2019. Specifically, members take issue with the proposed removal of a line that allows municipalities to use tax dollars for some costs associated with community power programs, as well as with changes to what data municipalities are able to obtain from utilities.

Restricting the city’s access to addresses would inhibit its ability to communicate with electric customers, Hansel explained. The city already has some addresses on record, he said, but these records are incomplete.

Hansel added that it would be “a deal breaker” if the city wasn’t allowed to pay staff for work on the community power program, as those employees are paid with tax money.

The energy committee also decried HB 315’s proposal for increased regulatory review.

“The Public Utilities Commission would have to review any plan and any changes to the plan going forward,” Hansel said. “Judging from the fact that the PUC is very busy, this would needlessly delay any implementation of our community power program.”

Community Development Director Rhett Lamb, who also serves as assistant city manager, called it “unprecedented” for Concord to require supervision over local initiatives like Keene’s planned community power program. City staff said the council’s formal opposition, if they agree to take a position, could be expressed in a letter to the N.H. Legislature.

PLD Committee members voiced support Wednesday night for the energy committee’s request. Councilor Catherine Workman noted the hard work that has gone into developing the city’s energy plan and that she’d hate to see anything stand in the way of putting it into action.

The bill is sponsored by Reps. Michael Vose, R-Epping, along with Jacqueline Cali-Pitts, D-Portsmouth; Michael Harrington, R-Strafford; and Douglas Thomas, R-Londonderry.

Vose said Tuesday that he supports the concept of community power programs but introduced HB 315 to ensure these programs don’t unfairly pass costs along to other communities that are not part of them. He stressed that the bill will require many adjustments and much discussion before it’s ready for a final vote.

“The bill, as introduced, is not going to be adopted,” he said. “It’s going to take significant amendments to move this bill forward.”

Vose also noted that he has a number of meetings scheduled to discuss potential ways to improve upon HB 315 and hopes to have something solid by mid-March.

The bill is currently being reviewed by the House’s Science, Energy and Technology Committee, which is set to hold a public hearing on it Friday. City Manager Elizabeth Dragon said she was registered to speak on the city’s concerns about the legislation, as is Mayor George Hansel.

Additionally, Mayor Hansel said Wednesday that he has been discussing the issue with other New Hampshire mayors, who have agreed to sign a letter supporting Keene’s efforts to advocate for community power programs.

“Keene’s voice will certainly be heard on this issue,” he said.

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