Hanover flips switch after years of power purchases 

Hanover's Director of Public Works Peter Kulbacki speaks with Ross Farnsworth, the building superintendent at the Hanover Public Works Department, on Monday,  Dec. 18, 2023, in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Hanover's Director of Public Works Peter Kulbacki speaks with Ross Farnsworth, the building superintendent at the Hanover Public Works Department, on Monday, Dec. 18, 2023, in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News – Jennifer Hauck

Hanover's Director of Public Works Peter Kulbacki works in his office on Monday,  Dec. 18, 2023, in Hanover, N.H. Kulbacki has been buying wholesale power for Hanover on the open market since 2014. No other Upper Valley municipality procures power in the same manner. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Hanover's Director of Public Works Peter Kulbacki works in his office on Monday, Dec. 18, 2023, in Hanover, N.H. Kulbacki has been buying wholesale power for Hanover on the open market since 2014. No other Upper Valley municipality procures power in the same manner. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — Jennifer Hauck

Peter Kulbacki, Hanover's director of public works, gives a quick message to an  employee on Monday, Dec. 18, 2023, in Hanover, N.H. Kulbacki has been buying wholesale power for Hanover on the open market since 2014. No other Upper Valley municipality procures power in the same manner. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Peter Kulbacki, Hanover's director of public works, gives a quick message to an employee on Monday, Dec. 18, 2023, in Hanover, N.H. Kulbacki has been buying wholesale power for Hanover on the open market since 2014. No other Upper Valley municipality procures power in the same manner. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

By FRANCES MIZE

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 12-27-2023 1:40 AM

Modified: 12-28-2023 6:36 AM


HANOVER — Quietly, and for nearly a decade, Hanover Director of Public Works Peter Kulbacki had been keeping the town’s energy costs low — at calculated risk — by buying it directly on the wholesale energy market.

Hanover was the only Upper Valley municipality that purchased all of its power from the New England regional market, called ISO-NE, for itself, rather than through a utility.

But it was a distinction that annually saved the town an estimated $150,000, Kulbacki said.

It also meant that while Kulbacki was busy with his other duties, like seeing to the town’s wastewater treatment plant and planning road repairs, he’d check market prices on his cellphone — the green, blue, red lines on the ISO-NE app that represent energy costs, and that rise and fall like waves.

The toughest part was building up the mental fortitude to not stare at those lines all day long. “It was addicting,” he said. “And it was also so nerve racking.”

While some large businesses also purchase power directly, and other municipalities, such Lebanon, do so for a small portion of accounts, Hanover “may be the only municipality, perhaps in all of New England, and almost certainly in New Hampshire, to be a full direct market participant” said Lebanon City Councilor Clifton Below, who also serves as chair of the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire, or CPCNH, a nonprofit energy aggregator.

But Hanover’s reign as “only” has come to a close.

Hanover joined CPCNH earlier this year, and the group will now take over power purchasing. Last Friday marked the final day any of the town’s energy supply was procured from ISO-NE by Kulbacki, who has been director of public works for 26 years.

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The money he saved Hanover by monitoring the market — and leaping when the time was right — for all of its accounts went toward building out the town’s solar arrays, which have helped slash Hanover’s energy consumption significantly.

Kulbacki described the process as “buying real-time power.” The price “bounces around a lot,” he said, fluctuating based on demand and what energy is into the market — a power plant that gets turned on, for example, or a spike in available solar.

Purchasing it for the town himself meant that he could take advantage of opportune moments in the market, in comparison to a utility, which purchases power for its customers at a fixed price for a long period of time. It also meant he had to constantly be on alert for spikes and dips.

When Kulbacki first started in 2014, he had a little coaching from Freedom Energy Logistics, an Auburn, N.H. consultant company, that the town hired to help him get set up with ISO-NE, to understand the gears of the market. “But I’ll tell you, the training’s complicated,” he said. “It was complicated just to sign into the training.”

Kulbacki proceeded on instinct and learned by doing, attuning himself to the rhythms of energy pricing. Prices go down on weekends. Prices typically spike around 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., when people wake up and get home from work, he said.

This year, when town departments were putting budgets together, Kulbacki said he was trying to explain to new finance director Ellen Bullion how he budgets for energy. “She was like ‘You’re going to have to write this down,’” he said. “So I was like, ‘How about I get out of the market and I won’t have to write this down.’ It will take longer to figure out how to explain it than it’s worth at this point.”

A renaissance man who likes to keep busy, Kulbacki, 62, had to learn to discipline his inclination toward perfectionism.

Sometimes, in hindsight, the leeway of having so much choice makes him second guess himself. “But if I can say, “I can afford ‘x,’ as long as I’m buying below that, I’m doing well.”

No longer having to think about a fluctuating market “will be a nice load off my shoulders,” he said. “But there’s always another crisis. So it’s not like I can relax.”

Still, in a win for municipal clarity, Kulbacki admitted that “it’ll be one less thing that’s difficult to explain.”

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at fmize@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.