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Community power is coming to NH in 2023. Here’s what to expect.

Ben McCleod
/
Flickr CC

Some Granite Staters could get their electricity in a new way this year, with the possibility of cheaper, more renewable power ahead with the start of community power programs.

Community power allows municipalities to buy electricity on behalf of their residents. (Utilities will still be responsible for getting that electricity to residents’ homes). It was made possible in state law in 2019, but it’s taken three years to get the rules in place and for towns to submit their plans to state regulators.

Now, the Public Utilities Commission has approved 12 plans, and some programs are set to be up and running this spring. Similar programs in Massachusetts have helped lower energy bills and support the development of renewable energy.

So far, there are two main routes towns, cities and counties in New Hampshire are taking to make this happen.

Twenty-seven municipalities have joined the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire. Henry Herndon, who helped found the coalition, says that represents about a fifth of the state’s population. The organization will help towns supply electricity more cheaply than utilities. Because they’re not regulated like a utility company, community power programs can take advantage of the open market, putting together a diverse portfolio and timing purchases of power in more advantageous ways, Herndon said.

Herndon says the coalition also hopes to help municipalities develop their own renewable generation and storage projects as a way to “bring the energy transition to New Hampshire.”

“We're really seeing in the financial forecast and projections the potential to really transform the market here by developing local generation assets, local energy storage, and do so in a cost effective way,” he said. “That becomes the solution to taking control of and lowering energy costs.”

Not all cities and towns that are starting community power programs will be part of the Coalition. Twelve other municipalities, including Keene, have selected Good Energy, which administers community power programs in other parts of the U.S., and Standard Power, which administers municipal energy purchasing in New Hampshire, to work together as their consultants.

Emily Manns, a community power consultant for Standard Power, says their model is straightforward.

“Our approach is to take our experienced brokerage skills and basic brokerage tools to get the best rates for customers, with low fees,” she said.

Standard Power also helps municipalities with renewable energy projects, Manns said, helping connect developers, hosts, and customers for the power. Community power, she said, can provide more structure and more community interest for those projects.

What residents can expect 

Electric bills generally have two parts: supply and delivery. Supply reflects the cost of the electricity itself. Delivery reflects the cost of getting that power to where it needs to go – maintaining poles and wires, for example.

Community power customers will still get their electric bill from their utility. On it, the “delivery” rate will come from their utility provider, but the “supply” rate will come from the community power program.

Once a community begins to launch their community power program, all of the electric customers in that municipality will receive a notification in the mail 30 days before the program starts.

Residents have the option not to participate in the community power program and to continue getting their electricity through their utility company or a third party supplier. But unless they opt out, they will automatically be enrolled in the program.

The first programs are expected to start in April 2023.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.

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