The timetable the City Council set two years ago for developing a plan for Keene to achieve its energy goals was ambitious. Yet the city is on track to meet that target this Thursday, Dec. 17, when the council takes up the unanimous recommendation of its Planning, Licenses and Development Committee to adopt the Sustainable Energy Plan developed by Keene’s Energy and Climate Committee.
The challenge of developing a plan for municipal action to tackle a problem of regional, national and global proportion is daunting, but credit the council, with community support, for being proactive. In January 2019, the council set goals for the city to have all electricity used in Keene come from renewable sources by 2030 and all heating and transportation energy to come from clean sources by 2050.
Now the Energy and Climate Committee has put forth a comprehensive road map that is broken down into four pathways and recommends action steps and a timetable for each. It is a plan that is ambitious, but leavened by such practical considerations as cost, the need for public education and buy-in and the limitation that the city can achieve only so much on its own.
The four pathways toward achieving 100 percent renewable energy use the plan identifies are reducing electric energy use, generating and storing renewable energy locally, switching remaining energy purchases to renewable sources, and advocacy at other governmental levels and to increase community buy-in. The plan addresses them in three sectors: electricity consumed in Keene, energy used to heat and cool buildings in Keene and ground transportation energy consumed by Keene residents. It also sets forth specific action steps and a timetable for implementing almost all of them over the next five years.
Work on some of the proposed steps are underway, such as the establishment of a community power program that would enable residents to buy electricity from the city that it has purchased from renewable energy providers. Such a program — which could be underway as soon as spring 2021 if the state’s Public Utilities Commission finishes its rulemaking by then — is a potential win-win, as it would promote renewable energy use while leveraging the city’s buying power to possibly lower prices, and residents would retain flexibility to buy electricity elsewhere.
Other steps the plan calls for will require further study and action by the council as well as public outreach and education to ensure buy-in. For example, the plan proposes the council adopt a benchmarking ordinance to require owners of certain sized and located buildings to report energy use data, though initially voluntarily. Another step calls for requiring energy efficiency disclosure about residential properties when they are listed for rent or sale, similar to disclosure being used in Vermont. The plan sensibly recognizes that the city will need to bring property owners, realtors and other stakeholders on board as part of achieving these steps.
And the plan acknowledges the practical obstacles of being unable to go it alone to achieve its renewable energy goals. This is especially so in the plan’s transportation energy sector, as federal and state incentives and funding will be necessary to make as much progress as possible on such critical outcomes as reducing fossil fuel emissions.
One area in which we’d suggest the plan might be expanded to address in the future is to propose more specific regional collaborative initiatives. The community power program being explored, for example, could prove even more cost-effective for Keene residents if its buying power were enhanced by expanding it to other communities. Also, with so much of Keene’s vehicle traffic originating outside the city, the transportation energy initiatives would be enhanced by outlining specific steps that could be taken with other towns in the region.
Changes and additions to the plan will always be necessary, of course, particularly as the city’s progress toward meeting the goals is assessed. The plan proposes developing various performance metrics to measure progress, and Energy and Climate Committee Chairwoman Ann Shedd told the PLD panel the plan will need to be revisited periodically. But it’s essential to start with a plan, and the committee has developed a sensible one that is flexible and practical, yet ambitious, in mapping a path to meeting the city’s renewable energy goals. The council should adopt the plan, and then get on with it.