Hanover, New Hampshire
Nancy Serrell and Robert Taylor
“Change is happening,” says Yolanda Baumgartner, co-chair of Sustainable Hanover, the town committee working with officials to accomplish Hanover’s commitment to 100% renewable energy. “We are starting a new chapter on the road to clean energy.”
Solar. In the four years since Hanover’s residents voted at their 2017 town meeting to commit to the Sierra Club’s national “Ready for 100” initiative, significant milestones are within sight for the first of three goals – to transition electricity to renewable sources before 2030. By this summer, an estimated 92% of the town facilities’ electric power will be from in-town solar. Residents are on track to double the number of solar homes from 125 in 2018 to 250 in 2021. Solar panels are also scheduled to be installed for 42 apartments at Hanover’s new affordable housing community on Summer Street.
For residents and small businesses without their own solar generation, the town will seek voter approval when the final work on the NH Community Power Coalition is completed. The NHCPC will allow Hanover and several other towns and cities to aggregate their buying power to provide affordable renewable electricity to all of their residents and small businesses. Meanwhile Hanover’s largest energy user, Dartmouth College, has adopted its own Green Energy Policy with renewable energy targets consistent with the town’s. Since 2017, Dartmouth has installed solar on 14 campus buildings. More is planned.
The commitment. Hanover was the nation’s 29th community to sign on to the Ready for 100 initiative. The town pledged to achieve 100% renewable sources for electricity by 2030, and for heat and transportation by 2050. It was audacious. Hanover’s vote covered not just municipal facilities but the entire town.
There were fears and concerns. “This has never been done – we couldn’t point to a prototype,” Baumgartner says. Questions abounded. Some wanted a detailed roadmap with cost projections. Was the technology ready or affordable? Could the effort be inclusive? What if the town’s biggest energy consumers, such as Dartmouth College which is responsible for roughly half of all energy usage, demurred?
Immediately following the vote, Sustainable Hanover named an Energy taskforce with 14 enthusiastic members. Their first year was devoted to building a foundation for the enormous task ahead. The consulting firm 3Degrees, which helps organizations implement renewable energy solutions, worked with the group to develop a strategy and set of guiding principles, which included the values of inclusivity and equity.
Addressing heat and transportation. With the electricity effort well underway and a growing corps of volunteers, Hanover has begun to address the transportation and heating sectors. Increasing efficiency is a major consideration for reaching 100% renewables for heating and cooling. An invigorated Weatherize Hanover campaign is operating year-round to encourage residents to reduce fuel consumption. For businesses and nonprofits, the town is hosting a Liberty Utilities consultant, whose project has generated $120,000 in NHSaves incentives for energy-efficiency improvements. A “Window Dressers” project will build and install low-cost window insulation inserts suitable for homeowners and renters. Nearly all town offices have converted to electric heat pumps instead of oil and gas boilers. A building code proposal is being studied for the town to adopt higher energy-efficiency standards than those mandated by the State.
Sustainable Hanover’s strategic plan called for giving attention to transportation when electric vehicle options are ready for mass adoption. Recognizing that the moment had come, the group formed an EV team last year. It is developing as a community resource for information about EVs and chargers and has established a network of EV owners who are available to answer questions about EV ownership in the Upper Valley. A popular e-bike library loan program, which introduced 65 residents to electric bikes as a low-carbon alternative to cars for in-town errands and commuting, will be repeated in May. A town study is underway to identify ways to improve the bike and pedestrian experience on Main Street.
The road ahead presents opportunities and challenges. Hanover has an invaluable asset in the supportive network of individuals and groups who are committed to reaching the 100% renewable energy goal. More than 30 volunteers are active participants. Equally priceless is the support of Town Manager Julia Griffin and town department heads, who are as committed as its most engaged citizens.
A major challenge as Hanover expands into heating and transportation is the difficulty of gathering community-wide data. Liberty Utilities, which serves all but a small number of Hanover users, provides aggregated reports on electric consumption. These reports show that kilowatt hour usage for Hanover has declined by 15 percent since 2013. Comparable data will need to be created to measure progress in the effort to transition from fossil fuels used for heating and transportation.
To learn more go to hanovernh.org.
Nancy Serrell is a member of Sustainable Hanover where her focus is on reducing food waste. Rob Taylor is a member of the Sustainable Hanover Energy taskforce. Rob is co-editor of the Sustainable Hanover newsletter and is leading the effort to upgrade the town’s energy building code.