The Keene City Council on Thursday adopted a sweeping plan to transition the city to 100-percent renewable energy in the coming decades.
Two years in the making, the plan spells out how Keene can try to achieve that goal through a combination of reducing energy use and switching to renewable sources.
The 15-member council approved it unanimously after a few minutes of discussion, and praise for the city staff and volunteer community members who drafted it.
“I see us as being stewards of our earth and our city and our people,” said Ward 4 Councilor Gladys Johnsen. “… It’s going to help, I know, my grandchildren and some of our others.”
Keene’s volunteer Energy and Climate Committee began work on the plan in 2019, after the City Council adopted a set of ambitious goals — using renewables to generate all electricity used in the city by 2030, and switching transportation and heating and cooling systems to renewable power by 2050.
Several other communities in New Hampshire have made similar pledges, prompted by the ever-more-urgent realities of climate change. A group in Peterborough is pushing for that town to adopt the same goals as Keene.
Keene’s plan describes the switch to clean electricity as key to success in the other two sectors, which depend partly on electrifying vehicles and heating systems so they no longer run on fossil fuels like gasoline and heating oil.
Councilors first considered the plan last month but returned it to a council committee over concerns about two programs meant to encourage building owners to report energy-usage data. The Planning, Licenses and Development Committee voted last week to recommend adoption of the plan, with language clarifying the programs will be voluntary. City Planner Mari Brunner said at that meeting that the city could consider making them mandatory down the road if they are successful and there is interest in that.
Ward 2 Councilor Mitchell H. Greenwald, who owns a real-estate business in Keene, said Thursday that he hopes they stay voluntary.
“Let me be the first to say my office is doing these voluntary disclosures,” he said. “We have a form, we are indicating any time that we show an apartment exactly what the energy costs are. And I challenge my fellow property managers to do the same.”
Several councilors made clear that adopting the plan is just the start, with Johnsen calling it a “living document.” The council will need to take additional actions to actually implement its recommendations, they said.
“I really look forward to hammering out the details,” said Ward 3 Councilor Terry M. Clark, who frequently advocates for clean energy. “We’re going to have to have some ordinances, some policies. We’re going to have to form some partnerships that are gonna be necessary in order to implement our renewable future. So let’s get started.”
The plan combines several broad approaches, including reducing energy demand, generating more clean energy locally and meeting additional demand by buying energy from renewable sources on the grid. Under each, it identifies a range of specific actions the city could take.
“There is no ‘silver bullet’ strategy to reach this vision; rather, the City will need to enact a diverse array of policies, programs, and incentives with buy-in and support from the community,” the plan states.
Energy-conservation strategies include boosting efforts to make buildings more efficient, in addition to reporting energy usage.
The plan suggests working with a bank to create a loan program for renewable-energy installations, piloting battery storage locally and issuing guidelines so that new developments are able to accommodate solar panels in the future. Those measures would aim to increase the amount of electricity generated in Keene.
To meet the remaining demand, the plan proposes the city act as a bulk purchaser of renewable electricity for local customers, a concept known as a community power plan. (Eversource would continue to handle transmission and delivery.)
Propane and heating oil are the dominant sources of thermal energy in Keene. In addition to weatherization programs to lower usage, the plan suggests encouraging property owners to switch from fossil fuels to electric heating systems like heat pumps. It also calls for studying the possibility of district heating — generating heat in a centralized location and distributing it via pipes.
As for transportation — which accounted for nearly half of Keene’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2015 — the plan says Keene should make its infrastructure better for pedestrians and cyclists, improve its mass-transit options, promote walkability through land-use codes, work with the school district to electrify its buses and install electric-vehicle charging stations in parking lots, garages and on-street spaces.
The city should also be a hub of practical information about clean energy for businesses and residents and advocate for state and federal policies on the subject, according to the plan.