A Game Changer for Energy in New Hampshire?
“Community Power” legislation recently signed into law has the potential to transform the way local governments in New Hampshire interact with their energy systems.
Under a Community Power program, local governments can procure and provide electricity to their residents and businesses on a competitive basis. By bypassing outdated regulations and legacy technologies, the Community Power programs can harness private-sector innovation to lower costs for their customers and provide other energy services. Electric distribution utilities (e.g., Eversource, Liberty Utilities, NH Electric Cooperative, and Unitil) continue to deliver the electricity over their poles and wires.
After approval of Community Power programs at town meetings (or the equivalent for cities and counties), all customers not already on competitive supply are automatically enrolled but can choose to switch back to their regulated utility or to another supplier.
At least eight states currently enable similar types of programs, sometimes referred to as “municipal aggregation” or “community choice aggregation.”
Lebanon Community Power, managed on behalf of the city by the Lebanon Energy Advisory Committee (LEAC), is on track to be New Hampshire’s first Community Power program. Numerous other local governments are considering establishing Community Power entities to take advantage of the new legislation. Community Power programs can be implemented at the municipal or county level.
A growing number of New Hampshire communities are setting renewable energy targets, with at least a half a dozen aiming to achieve 100% renewable electricity supply by 2030. The Community Power law will likely play an important role in enabling cities and towns to achieve their renewable energy goals.
Beyond Bulk Energy Purchasing
Beyond simple energy procurements, the Community Power law (SB 286-FN-LOCAL) equips users with various other capabilities.
For example, Lebanon Community Power plans to develop renewable energy projects within the city to supply electricity to the community as a whole. The City of Lebanon has appropriated $2.85 million for the development of a one-megawatt (MW) landfill gas-to-energy power plant. The City is also considering options for large solar projects which could similarly provide electricity directly to city businesses and residents.
Another area where the law expands local control relates to smart meters and electric grid modernization. Grid modernization, a concept currently under study by New Hampshire energy regulators, seeks to accelerate and harness customer adoption of distributed solar, energy storage (batteries), electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and other technologies.
Grid modernization requires smart meters that can track energy production and consumption throughout the day. The vast majority of energy meters owned by electric utilities only log energy data once a month. Under the new legislation, Community Power programs may deploy their own smart meters and use them to unlock a suite of new pricing options both for energy consumption, and as payment for power from solar, household batteries, etc.
Process for Implementing “Community Power”
The first step for a local government to implement a Community Power program is for the local governing body, whether it be a select board, town council, city council, or county commission, to form an electric aggregation committee to develop a Community Power plan. Multiple towns, cities, or counties may group together to form committees to develop these plans. Once finalized, Community Power plans must be approved by the local legislative body (e.g., town meeting, city council).
At least two other energy bills may impact the implementation of Community Power programs in New Hampshire.
SB 284, also recently signed into law, enables for the creation of a statewide, multi-use online energy data platform. Implementation of some of the more sophisticated aspects of Community Power relating to smart meters and dynamic pricing will rely on modern data collection and processing.
Another bill, HB 365, which would increase the allowed size for net-metered renewable energy projects from one megawatt to five megawatts, was vetoed by Governor Sununu. Cities and towns hoping to use Community Power programs to develop their own renewable energy systems will likely be looking at projects in the range of one to five megawatts.
During the legislative session, both the House and the Senate voted for HB365 with strong enough margins to override a veto. It remains to be seen on veto override day this September whether those votes will hold.
Henry Herndon is Director of Local Energy Solutions for Clean Energy NH.