Power

Keene is exploring implementing a community power program — but how would such a program work, and what exactly would it do?

Simply put, community power programs allow municipalities to purchase power on behalf of residents and business owners within their jurisdiction. This affords those cities and towns more control over where the electricity comes from, such as renewable sources. It also allows them to shop around for the best deals, to lower rates for consumers.

A consultant has identified adopting a community power plan as one of the most efficient ways for Keene to reach its goal of drawing all power used in the city from clean sources by 2030. Such programs were made possible in New Hampshire in June 2019, when Gov. Chris Sununu signed Senate Bill 286 into law, allowing municipalities and counties to form aggregate power programs.

While New Hampshire has been able to implement community power programs for over a year, Massachusetts has had that ability for more than two decades. Boston is in the process of launching its own program, which is set to take effect in February.

According to David Musselman, director of Boston’s municipal energy unit, the city is preparing a request for proposals from energy companies. Boston has been working on its plan since 2017, he said.

As in Keene, Boston’s default energy supplier is Eversource. Once Boston’s community power program kicks off, Eversource will still be responsible for delivering energy to customers, but the city will become the default supplier.

Customers in Boston will still receive an electric bill directly from Eversource, according to Taylor Connolly, a spokeswoman for the Boston Mayor’s Office of Environment, Energy & Open Space. The only difference will be that the city’s community power program will be listed under the “supplier” section of the electric bill.

Boston won’t actually generate or store any of its own electricity, according to Musselman. Once the city enters into a supply agreement, he explained, the company it contracts with will be responsible for delivering the electricity to Eversource, which will use its infrastructure to deliver the electricity to individual customers.

As in Keene, a community power program had been identified as one of the best ways to help the city reach its energy goals, which in Boston’s case means being carbon-neutral by 2050, Musselman said.

Greenfield, Mass., has also implemented a community power program. In a video on the Keene Energy Plan website, Carole Collins, director of energy and sustainability for the Massachusetts city, lays out how that community’s program has worked. Collins was not reachable for additional information this week.

But in the video, she said Greenfield’s program, which has been operational for the past five years, is an opt-out program, where the city is the default supplier unless someone wants to purchase their electricity from another company. Greenfield offers 100 percent clean power at rates that are typically lower than the competition, she noted.

“We work with a broker, who’s extremely skilled, and they’re the ones that actually secure our supply for us, and then we decide yes or no,” Collins said. When comparing the rate the city offers to the average of Eversource’s summer and winter rates, Collins said Greenfield customers have saved a combined $1 million over the five years the program has existed.

In Keene, there’s still a long way to go until a community power program is ready to be put into place. Last week, the City Council’s Finance, Organization and Personnel Committee voted to recommend the council approve hiring a pair of consulting firms to develop a community power plan and help implement it. The council is set to vote on that recommendation tonight.

But after the consultants are hired, there’s still more to do. First, the consultants’ plan will need to be approved by the council. Then the city will work with its consultants to select a competitive supplier to work with before eventually launching the program.

More information about Keene’s community power program plans can be found online at www.keeneenergyplan.com/communitypower.

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