City councilors approved two measures at their most recent meeting to shift money in the budget and fund efforts to move toward Keene’s renewable energy goals.
Earlier this year, Keene city councilors adopted a nonbinding resolution setting goals for the municipality and its residents to switch all electricity use to renewable sources by 2030 and to convert all heating and transportation to renewables by 2050.
The first proposal approved at the June 20 council meeting authorized City Manager Elizabeth A. Dragon to negotiate and execute a contract for up to $45,000 for “energy planning consulting services.” Mari Brunner, a planner with the city, told the finance committee June 13 that the services would include compiling the community’s baseline electricity use and evaluating strategies to achieve Keene’s energy goals.
Of that $45,000, a portion will come from the surplus left in an account used for contract inspections during busy construction seasons. The remaining $26,335 will be transferred from unused personnel funds, which are earmarked for employee wages. Hiring consultants is considered an operational expense, and requires approval to use personnel funds for it.
The second measure also authorized the use of personnel funds, this time for Dragon to hire another consultant to draft a request for proposals and look at renewable energy options for the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
The estimated fee would be around $15,000, which falls within the city manager’s authority to negotiate without first obtaining council approval, but dipping into personnel funds to do so requires a vote.
The wastewater plant is the largest electrical user in Cheshire County, according to Assistant Public Works Director Duncan Watson. He told the finance committee that this consultant would help the city develop its request for proposals and find an energy partner for a possible project, the scope of which he said hasn’t been determined. If it’s going to be a solar array, he said it would be several million dollars.
The city could sign a power purchase agreement — which many municipalities use for solar panel projects and Keene took advantage of with the array on its Marlboro Street complex — and wouldn’t have to front any costs for the project. But Keene wouldn’t own the panels in that case, Watson explained, and the maximum savings would be delayed.
Dragon told the committee that all options are on the table, calling this a huge opportunity, and she said a potential project wouldn’t necessarily be limited to solar or to the wastewater treatment plant.
After the city hires the consultant and begins the next steps, Watson said he hopes to return to the council by October or November with a possible approach.
Councilor Thomas F. Powers was the proposals’ only opponent, first in the finance, operation and personnel committee, and later at the council meeting. In both instances, Powers said he supported the projects but dissented on the basis that personnel funds shouldn’t be reallocated for other purposes.