Hanover joins newly-formed Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire

The Town hopes that the coalition will help it to realize its goal of achieving 100% renewable electricity by 2030.

by Jacob Strier | 10/22/21 5:00am

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by Emil Liden / The Dartmouth

Hanover joined the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire on Oct 1. The coalition, which includes 12 other municipalities and Cheshire County, aims to help member governments pool their resources to transition to more renewable forms of electricity.

Previously, Hanover residents purchased energy largely from Liberty — a regulated energy utility vendor — according to Hanover town manager Julia Griffin. 

Griffin said that joining the CPCNH is a step toward the community-wide commitment to 100% renewable electricity by 2030. 

“We knew that to meet that goal, we needed to create a town-wide aggregation [system] and get the state statute changed to enable towns to buy [energy] on behalf of our retail customers,” Griffin said. “The best aggregation would happen if we pulled multiple communities together — it gives us more clout.” 

Griffin said that Hanover has made small strides toward renewable energy, including installing a new solar array which will provide some 92% of the three megawatts used by the town’s public infrastructure. The CPCNH will help shift the entire town’s 115 megawatts electric consumption toward green energy over time, according to Griffin. 

The coalition allows municipalities to negotiate and purchase electricity from utility companies collectively on residents’ behalf, according to Lebanon assistant mayor Clifton Below, and aims to help communities lower consumer electricity prices and afford more green energy options.

Below said that the 14 member towns and cities of the CPCNH constitute 211,000 residents — about 15% of the state population. The coalition includes Nashua, the state’s second largest city with nearly 90,000 residents. 

The CPCNH will facilitate collaboration between local governments, existing utility companies like Liberty and state regulators, according to energy consultant Henry Herndon. Currently 60% to 70% of the electricity in New England comes from natural gas, Herndon said, while the rest is from a mix of renewable energy and nuclear power.

Herndon also noted that the CPCNH could utilize cash gains over time to develop a local energy economy. He added that local energy economies, which produce power closer to home, can reduce costs associated with interstate grid transmission and the wider, wholesale market. 

Below built on Herndon’s image of how the CPCNH will operate, explaining that the coalition, made up of state governments, will become similar to “a power supply agency.” At first, he said it will work with vendors and competitive suppliers to supply energy. Over time, however, the CPCNH will become a “load serving entity” able to contract with local renewable resources. 

“It is for communities, by communities,” Below said. 

History of the CPCNH

The story of the CPCNH goes back decades, according to Below. He said that in the early 1990s, New Hampshire was heading toward some of the highest electric rates in the nation. In response, Below said that he spearheaded legislation in 1996 to address the problem as a member of the New Hampshire state legislature. 

The 1996 legislation, RSA 53-E, was the first municipal power aggregation legislation in the country, Below said. The legislation allowed municipalities to sponsor the supply of electricity to customers. The main issue with the 1996 legislation was that it worked on an opt-in basis, which made innovative community power aggregation programs difficult to launch. The law was updated in 2019 to make the program opt-out, according to Below. 

Hanover sustainability manager April Salas said that a town green-energy program that operated under the opt-in 1996 legislation had only mustered 10% of the town’s population to participate at its height. Salas said that the opt-out based 2019 legislation will naturally encourage far higher participation rates in community power aggregation.

According to Below, the journey toward community power aggregation hit an obstacle in January 2021. The New Hampshire House floated HB 315, a bill that would have “completely gutted” the 2019 law and made opt-out community power aggregation nearly “impossible.” Below said energy utilities like Eversource, which provides 70% of electricity in New Hampshire, were proponents of the bill. 

Below added that ultimately, he worked alongside Herndon, House energy committee chairman Rep. Michael Vose and Eversource to come to a compromise that would allow municipalities to use opt-out community power aggregation. The revised bill was passed on Sept. 7 and will go into effect on Oct. 25. 

Dartmouth and the CPCNH

Hanover’s residential electricity use is a “drop in the bucket” compared to large Hanover energy consumers like Dartmouth, Hypertherm, the Co-op supermarkets and the Army Corps of Engineers, according to Griffin. She said that these large consumers currently buy electricity on the wholesale market through third-party brokers. 

Griffin said that a main goal for Hanover is to encourage these large consumers to sign 15–20 year power purchase agreements that lock them into competitive pricing for 100% green power. In the future, Griffin said, the CPCNH could help execute such power agreements for large consumers like Dartmouth. 

The College’s director of sustainability Rosi Kerr said that Dartmouth consumes 65,000 megawatt-hours per year, and that the College is a “supportive partner” — with the sustainability office meeting regularly with Salas, Below, Griffin and other Dartmouth administrators to discuss energy use. 

Salas said that Dartmouth has not yet had to make a decision about its involvement in the CPCNH, but said that the College is “very supportive” of the CPCNH. 

The future of the CPCNH

Engineering professor Amro Farid, who serves as a technical advisor to the CPCNH, said that relevant changes to the energy landscape require a “push” on physical, economic and political fronts. He added that the CPCNH, which consists of volunteers and town governments, does not have the “armies” of electric power professionals available to electric power utilities.

Though an upward battle, Herndon said that the CPCNH provides a “huge opportunity” for municipalities to move forward on clean energy and it is designed to grow and welcome new municipal members over time. 

“We hope it will expand beyond the initial fourteen,” Herndon said.

The Town of Hanover has given residents updates regarding the  CPCNH through multiple public meetings, Griffin said. She added that the town will provide residents and businesses information on pricing in 2022. 

“Collaborations and coalitions require time,” she said. “We don’t want any communities to be rushed into it.”

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