Last week, Keene became the first municipality in New Hampshire to pass a community power program, which would give the city more control over the local electricity supply. But a few things still have to happen before it can go live.
City Manager Elizabeth Dragon said Keene submitted its community power plan to the N.H. Public Utilities Commission Tuesday, to get the ball rolling on approval as soon as possible.
“We want the clock to start ticking for them in order for them to review it,” she said.
A key component of the sweeping renewable-energy plan approved by the City Council in January, the community power program would enable the city to purchase electricity on behalf of consumers, giving it more say in where the electricity used in Keene comes from and how much it costs.
The city’s ad hoc community power committee considers it one of the best paths toward meeting Keene’s goal of 100 percent renewable sourcing for electricity by 2030 and for thermal and transportation energy by 2050.
The program would let consumers select from four plans that vary by price, based on the amount of renewables. Customers would be enrolled in the default plan, which would provide slightly more renewables than the state standard at a rate that the city and its consultants say would be competitive with the utility. But they could choose to pay more for plans with more renewable energy; select a plan that meets the state standard for renewables while potentially saving a few bucks; or opt out of the program entirely.
“Consumers are now going to have some choice where they didn’t before,” said Rhett Lamb, Keene’s community development director and assistant city manager. “There are green and more renewable options, there [is also] an option with potentially a lower rate than what they’re paying today. So these are all really cool things that provide more consumer choice.”
Next steps for the city
As the plan was nearing completion, the N.H. Legislature was considering House Bill 315, which, according to city staff and other stakeholders, would have made Keene’s community power program harder to implement. Amendments to the bill largely addressed those concerns, and the bill is now awaiting a full vote in the N.H. Senate.
One change would give the Public Utilities Commission — a state regulatory body — 60 days to consider a community power plan, and if that time frame is exceeded without a decision, the municipality could move forward. But before the PUC can approve a plan, it must issue rules for community power programs in the state, which would take place after H.B. 315 is approved.
“We feel that by delivering the community power plan from Keene, we may be able to encourage the PUC to be prepared for the next rule-making session,” said Bob Hayden, president of Standard Power, one of the city’s consultants on the program. “So everything we’re doing is with the goal in mind of pressurizing the timeline.”
Once it gets the PUC’s OK, Keene will be able to go out to bid for an electricity supply, said City Planner Mari Brunner, who has worked closely with the city’s ad hoc community power committee. She said the timeline for that process will depend on market conditions, and consultants will be working on it along with city staff.
Dragon said city staff will take the time to find a supplier that meets Keene’s needs and benefits its electricity consumers.
“We have maximum flexibility with this plan,” she said. “I’m not going to sign a contract that isn’t favorable for us.”
Once the supply is secured, Brunner said, the city will bring its plan back to the public.
Next steps for consumers
Once the city knows where the electricity for its community power program is coming from, Brunner said, city staff and consultants will conduct a public education campaign about the program, which will include a public meeting.
She also said consumers will get multiple mailings from the city — an initial one alerting them to stay tuned for more information and then a follow-up containing more details, which would come about 30 days before the program launches.
“There will be another big push in the community so that people know about this program, that it’s coming, so that they have an opportunity to opt out before it even launches,” Brunner said.
However, Hayden said that “a lot of people just won’t even notice” when the program activates. Generally, electric bills have two parts — one for the electricity supply and one for delivery. While the city of Keene will now be the supplier, Eversource’s infrastructure will still deliver power to buildings, and the utility will still be responsible for billing.
New Hampshire currently allows people to purchase power from a third-party supplier, and these customers will not be automatically enrolled in Keene’s new program. And Eversource customers who wish to purchase power from a third-party supplier rather than the city will be able to opt out of the city’s program.
Those who want to opt into the plan with the minimum amount of renewables to save some money — or conversely, a plan with more renewables than the default — will be able to do so via Keene’s community power website: keenecommunitypower.com.
Though the city has had a major role in developing the program, once it’s launched, customer service will be managed by the city’s consultants and not by city staff.
“That’s a huge part of the attractiveness to us, too,” Lamb said. “It’s such a great idea, but it’s not the kind of thing that we’re used to doing day to day and we have experts to help us do it. It’s the right way to structure it from our point of view.”