Community power plan advocates across New Hampshire — including those developing an aggregation plan for the City of Keene — could breathe a sigh of relief when a compromise was announced earlier this month to significantly revise House Bill 315. Under enabling state legislation enacted two years ago, community power plans allow municipalities to aggregate the electricity purchasing power of their residents and businesses, making possible lower energy supply costs while also empowering municipalities to choose their own energy path, including reducing reliance on fossil-fuel energy.
As introduced in the House, HB 315 would have added significant roadblocks to implementing effective community power aggregation plans. For Keene, the bill was particularly disturbing, “effectively kneecapping” — as one city councilor put it — the city’s plans for a community aggregation program. That program is a centerpiece of the sweeping energy plan adopted this year by the City Council, including its goal of transitioning Keene to renewable electricity energy by 2030.
Backers of HB 315 argued its provisions were necessary to prevent community power program costs from being passed along to consumers. But it had the backing of Eversource and the state’s other principal electric utilities and seemed more intended to protect them from the competition for energy supply that aggregations plans aim to promote.
Given the heavy fire that HB 315 drew from community power advocates — including, in Keene’s case, very public opposition from its Climate and Energy Committee, the council, Mayor George Hansel and City Manager Elizabeth Dragon — even one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Michael Vose of Epping, acknowledged the bill would need significant amendment to move forward. And, to his credit, Vose — who chairs the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee that’s considering HB 315, pulled together the various stakeholders to hammer out compromise language. He presented the revised HB 315 at a hearing on March 5, and the compromise has been endorsed by the committee and will move to the full House for consideration.
As in any compromise, neither side got completely all it wanted, but both the utilities and the community power proponents have expressed satisfaction with the revised bill. For Keene, the most objectionable aspects have been removed, specifically, provisions in the original bill that would have prevented the city from accessing utilities’ customer data that it will need to communicate with consumers and also would have hobbled city staff from implementing the program by preventing the use of tax dollars for program expenses. In the half-a-loaf category, however, the bill retains the new requirement that subjects community aggregation plans to state Public Utilities Commission review, but the compromise language imposes a 60-day time limit on that review.
The city having already invested considerable effort to develop its community power plan and come so close to implementing it under the existing statute, the best outcome would have been for HB 315 to have been killed and further delay avoided. Instead, despite the removal of the most objectionable provisions, the PUC will under the compromise bill have to go through a formal rulemaking process before its review of community power plans such as Keene’s can even begin.
In introducing the compromise language, Vose stated the amendment “does what we need it to do to allow innovation while protecting existing customers.” The amendment is certainly an improvement on the original HB 315, but the extended delay in allowing that innovation to begin is frustrating.
Let’s hope the revised bill makes it through the House and Senate and becomes law so Keene’s and other communities’ programs can proceed.