Nobody should be deterred by the estimated pricing structure recently revealed for Keene’s proposed community power program. Still, the expected cost for a Keene consumer to elect to go fully green was a bit eye-popping and is a reminder bumps in the road can be expected as the city travels its ambitious and laudable road toward reducing reliance on non-renewable energy sources.
The idea underlying a community power program is a sound one — to pool residents and businesses and leverage their aggregated electricity purchasing power. This would provide negotiating muscle that individual consumers lack. And it would allow greater ability to source electricity from renewable energy providers. This latter aspect makes Keene’s proposed program additionally desirable, as it would be a linchpin of the city’s overall energy plan, which, among other initiatives, calls for the city to transition to all-renewable electricity sources by 2030.
The community power program being developed has already run into a significant legislative obstacle. House Bill 315, as introduced in the Legislature, would place a number of regulatory and other hurdles in the way of — and perhaps even deter — communities hoping to adopt power aggregation plans. Fortunately, wiser heads may be prevailing, as both the state’s electric utilities and community power advocates — including the very useful involvement of city representatives — have hammered out a compromise amendment of HB 315 that, if enacted, would eliminate the bill’s most objectionable features and keep Keene’s plan on track.
Meanwhile, public discussion of the draft program continues, and community members got a look at some expected pocketbook implications for them at a hearing last week. The important starting point for understanding them is that participation in the Keene program will be entirely optional — residents and businesses currently using Eversource as a supplier will be enrolled by default, but they can opt out and purchase directly from Eversource or any other supplier they choose. And Eversource, as the transmission utility in Keene, will continue to deliver the electricity and to do the billing for supply and transmission.
The benefit of the program — both to consumers and for making progress toward Keene’s energy goals — is that those who remain in the program can choose from among different pricing options, depending on their own circumstances and goals. At a minimum, consumers seeking to reduce their costs regardless of the energy source can elect a so-called basic option that’s expected to reduce the monthly cost by $3. But those hoping to go green can elect to direct either 50 percent of their supply from renewable providers for an expected $10 more per month or 100 percent of their supply from renewable sources for an expected $23 per month increase.
It’s the monthly $23 additional cost of the 100 percent option that gives pause, although not because it (or even the 50 percent option) is being forced on anyone. Rather, the 100 percent option would be the fastest way to maximize the program’s potential for reducing fossil-fuel reliance in electricity consumption, and the price point may be beyond some and perhaps many, no matter how eager to promote renewables they are.
At last week’s public hearing, a consultant to Keene’s project, responding to a question why community power programs elsewhere can offer lower costs for their 100 percent option, explained that a goal of Keene’s program is to focus on local renewable energy sources, while renewables elsewhere may be less costly. Promoting more local sources seems sensible, but its result will likely stretch out the period of consumer adoption of 100 percent renewable sources. Still, as Keene builds its purchasing power by leveraging aggregation through the program, and as renewable energy costs decline over time, the pricing of the green options should become more appealing.
Even from Day One, however, the expected pricing structure does not make the proposed community power program any less appealing. Consumers can elect not to participate, and any participant can elect the option that is expected to lower costs. With the level of concern for environmental issues that this region has seen over the years, we’d expect many Keene consumers will want to encourage renewable energy sources through the proposed plan. And even if pricing of the greener options is an initial deterrent to some, merely participating in the program and opting for the reduced-cost basic option will still help Keene’s efforts to reach a key energy goal.