What is community power?

Daria Mark of Good Energy discusses the basics of community power programs Tuesday.

Area residents giving feedback on Keene’s proposed community power program Tuesday night asked a variety of questions, including about the program’s potential impact on their electricity bills.

While saying it’s a bit too soon to start talking about rate differences, Daria Mark of Good Energy — which is serving as a consultant on the project — said plenty of communities have been able to offer competitive rates through these programs, while still offering greater amounts of renewable energy.

The city was joined by Mark and other representatives from Good Energy and Standard Power, also a consultant, during two Zoom meetings that gave members of the public a chance to learn more about community power programs.

These programs allow a municipality to purchase power, which can then be sold back to residents and business owners. Pitched as part of a broader plan to transition Keene to 100 percent renewable energy resources by 2050, a community power program would give the city the ability to buy electricity at a better rate while also controlling where that power comes from.

“The idea came primarily out of some goals the City Council set about renewable energy in 2019,” said Rhett Lamb, Keene’s community development director, who also serves as staff liaison to the city’s community power committee. “But it’s not just about renewable energy goals; it’s also out of an interest to meet the citizens’ need for cost-effectiveness.”

Mark, of Good Energy, explained that when you look at your electric bill, there are two parts to the charges — the delivery and the supply. The delivery portion is always managed by the default energy provider, which is Eversource locally, but consumers have the option of selecting a different provider.

Under a community power program, the city would become the default supplier, but Eversource would still be the utility responsible for servicing electricity infrastructure. “That’s who you call in an outage,” she said.

In addition to affording more control over where Keene’s electricity comes from and how much the city pays for it, Mark said other benefits of the program include the ability to vet suppliers, keep prices stable and explore the option of creating new area initiatives by using the community power program to encourage more electricity generation locally. And there would be no penalty for those who opt out of the program, she said.

About 10 people tuned in to Tuesday night’s meeting, and 15 joined an earlier meeting held at noon. In addition to how rates under a community power program would compare to existing rates, participants asked whether the city could work with other communities on this program in the future and how residents of low income who receive assistance with their electric bills would be affected.

Bob Hayden, president of Standard Power, said that there is potential for Keene to work with other area communities, some of which have already been contacted, to expand the community power program in the future. This could result in even lower rates, he added.

“The more power you buy at any given time, the lower the cost,” he said.

Hayden also said that those who receive assistance paying their energy bills would still be able to receive assistance and that those benefits might even increase down the road.

In addition to hosting the public information meetings, the city also released a survey to give residents another way to give feedback on the proposal. It can be found online at www.surveymonkey.com/r/CommunityPower.

According to Mark, the community power program plan will be drafted in January, with additional public feedback to be sought at a pair of Jan. 26 meetings that will look much like the meetings held Tuesday. She said the plan will go back to the city’s community power committee in March for finalization before being sent to the City Council for final approval sometime in March.

Though the hope is to have the program go into effect by the spring of 2021, Mark said, she noted a potential hold-up.

Community power programs have been allowed in New Hampshire only since 2019, though they’ve been permitted in other states for a longer period of time. For example, Mark said Good Energy is involved in around 40 programs in Massachusetts.

“This community power program idea in New Hampshire is fairly new, and so the Public Utilities Commission is still working out the rules for it,” she said. “Because they’re still working out the rules and regulations for it, Keene can’t start the program, or we can’t launch, until PUC has finished their rule-making.”

More information about the proposed community power program, and information about how to access future meetings, 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