Solar array

Keene’s proposed community power program took another step forward Thursday when an ad hoc committee approved a draft plan for the initiative.

In a unanimous vote during its meeting that morning, Keene’s ad hoc Community Power Committee agreed to send the draft to the City Council, which Assistant City Manager and Community Development Director Rhett Lamb said he hopes will approve the plan “in the next month or so.” This would enable the city to purchase power on behalf of residents and business owners, giving Keene more say over where its electricity comes from.

A community power program is a central component in the sweeping renewable energy plan the council adopted earlier this year, which aims to see Keene transition to 100 percent renewable energy for electricity by 2030 and for thermal and transportation energy by 2050. The non-binding goals apply not only to city facilities, but to all residents and businesses within Keene.

The Energy and Climate Committee, which created the plan to achieve these targets, has identified a community power program as one of the best ways to meet Keene’s electricity goal.

The draft that members approved Thursday was slightly revised to address some linguistic concerns brought up by residents during previous community outreach events on the plan. City staff expect the council will refer the plan to one of its committees, which would host another public hearing.

One change energy committee members discussed Thursday clarifies the city’s intent to purchase power from suppliers that are as local as possible. In addition to the benefits of keeping dollars in the community, City Planner Mari Brunner said encouraging the expansion of the local renewable energy market is among the community power plan’s objectives.

“Driving market transformation” is an important part of the plan, which includes helping to make it “more economical” for new suppliers to enter the playing field, she told The Sentinel. She said this can also spur local job growth and investment in the area.

Bob Hayden, president of Standard Power, a Nashua-based company that has been one of the city’s consultants on the community power program, agreed with the importance of sourcing energy locally.

“I think that there would be a pride and a team feeling for the community if they could point to and see projects in the community that they’ve helped develop,” he said. “So I think it really creates a synergy of pride and action.”

But recently, doubt was cast on the program’s future due to the introduction of N.H. House Bill 315, which proposes changes to the 2019 law that first allowed New Hampshire municipalities to participate in community power programs.

The city’s energy committee and city staff expressed concerns about the bill as originally written — which they said would increase the regulatory burden for starting a program, prohibit tax dollars from being used on it and limit the city’s access to customer data — though a recent amendment has satisfied most of those worries.

“It is a very positive bill that does a good job of answering some of the questions that might have been left from the original law that was passed in 2019,” Hayden said of the amended version.

During a public hearing last month, consultants working with Keene on its community power program laid out what it would mean for consumers’ electricity bills. While people can opt out of the program entirely, everyone currently using Eversource as their supplier would be automatically entered into the city’s default plan, which is expected to cost about the same amount while increasing the share of energy from renewable sources.

There would also be three other plans a person could select. One would offer no additional renewable energy but would come with a small savings over the utility. A 50-percent renewable option is expected to run roughly $10 more than the default plan per month, and a 100-percent renewable plan is anticipated to carry an extra monthly cost of $20 to $25.

“The [prices] are an estimate based on current market conditions,” Brunner noted. “We won’t know the actual prices until the program is launched.”

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