Hanover, Lebanon eye ‘community power’ to offer control over energy sourcing

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/22/2021 9:35:37 PM
Modified: 6/22/2021 9:35:43 PM

HANOVER — Voters will decide next month whether to bring “community power” to Hanover, potentially opening the door to more environmentally friendly sources of energy.

An article on this year’s Town Meeting warrant asks residents to approve a plan that would allow municipal officials to contract and bid for the energy needs of about 2,500 residential customers.

Community power, which is sometimes referred to as municipal aggregation, allows municipal governments to buy power for residents and businesses from alternative sources while still relying on transmission services from traditional providers like Liberty Utilities.

If approved at the July 13 Town Meeting, the program could launch next spring, bringing Hanover another step closer to meeting its sustainability goals, Town Manager Julia Griffin said.

Meanwhile, Lebanon is working on a similar proposal that would see more than 6,000 households and 1,000 businesses switch to community power as well.

“It’s an issue that is pretty cutting edge, both for New England and, in this format, certainly for New Hampshire,” Griffin said in an interview Tuesday.

Advocates say the programs allow for more local control over where energy comes from, how much it costs and how costs are calculated.

Griffin said town officials began exploring community power around 2017 after Hanover ended a buyer’s club that sought to purchase green energy on a smaller scale.

That club, which had about 380 customers, worked with Maine-based ENH Power to purchase renewable energy credits, a form of proof that renewable energy is being produced elsewhere. But when ENH was acquired by a Texas-based company, Griffin said, it no longer saw value in providing to such a small customer base.

“And so we decided to dissolve the club and notify everybody,” she said, adding that notices included a message of “stay tuned.”

Then in 2019, community power advocates won a victory when Gov. Chris Sununu signed legislation that opened the door to municipal aggregation, including a provision that makes prospective customers opt-out instead of opt-in.

That’s important, Griffin said, because getting people to choose community power can be difficult. Many people aren’t tuned in to power discussions or are simply shopping for the lowest price, she said.

Hanover then worked with neighboring Lebanon, the southern New Hampshire city of Nashua and Cheshire County to explore community power options, culminating in it joining the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire earlier this year.

The nonprofit is designed to support municipalities’ efforts to supply electricity through bulk purchases. In Hanover’s case, the town would contract with the group, which would then seek bids for electricity, review them and offer options to customers.

Under the town’s proposal, customers in Hanover would be mailed notifications and given the chance to withdraw before the town’s community power program launches. Those who want to opt out after Hanover Community Power starts operating also could do so in between billing periods.

For the households and businesses that do make the switch, the town hopes to provide a variety of energy options. Some would include 100% green options while others would offer 75% or 50%.

Griffin hopes community power will help Hanover achieve its goal of converting to 100% renewable energy for electricity, heating and transportation by 2050.

“In general, a larger green power mix is more expensive than a pure brown power mix and (the Community Power Coalition) wants to be sensitive to individual customers’ abilities to pay,” said a handout provided by the town.

If all goes well, Griffin said, the program would launch in the spring of 2022, when pricing is typically competitive.

Lebanon, which also is a member of the Community Power Coalition, also would use the group to purchase power and develop ways to manage risk on the wholesale energy market.

Through that approach, the city could develop long-term contracts or even sign on to local renewable energy projects to provide price stability, Assistant Mayor Clifton Below said.

“What this is all about is communities being able to choose their supplier” and the type of power generation, said Below, a former member of Public Utilities Commission who helped found the Community Power Coalition.

While Lebanon’s goals include procuring green power and promoting renewable energy, its first priority is to save customers money.

“Lebanon Community Power will only launch if it can initially offer a rate lower than the default energy service rate offered by Liberty Utilities, and its long-term stability depends on maintaining rate options competitive with Liberty’s default service rate,” its draft plan says.

Below said Lebanon will hold a public forum on its community power plans at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 15, at City Hall. The City Council, which would ultimately be responsible for approving a plan, is expected to discuss it in August.

Hanover’s Town Meeting, where voters will determine the fate of its community power plan, is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 13, at Dartmouth College’s Dewey Parking Lot.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

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