Henry P. Herndon
There is a new civic institution forming in New Hampshire. Its mission is to empower our cities and towns to realize their energy goals. It promises to transform our energy system, to enable local construction of renewable energy, and to empower customers with distributed energy innovations. It is called Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire. You are invited to be a part of it.
In this article, I first present some brief context about the formation of Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire, or “The Coalition.” I then make the case for why New Hampshire citizens, cities, towns, and counties should join the Coalition to help lead the transformation of our state’s energy system.
Context – How the Coalition Came to Be
In the “before times,” on a brisk and snowy December afternoon in 2019, Clean Energy NH convened a gathering of municipal and county leaders. In attendance were city leaders from Keene, Concord, Lebanon and Nashua; volunteers and town officials from Warner, Hanover, Bristol, and a smattering of Upper Valley, Monadnock, and Seacoast communities; and staff administrators from Cheshire County. The topic at hand was maximizing the Community Power opportunity for the Granite State.
Earlier that year, Governor Chris Sununu signed Community Power into law, granting municipalities and counties the local control authorities to procure electricity and other energy services on behalf of their communities in aggregate. But the road to implementation was not yet clear. Ahead lay a fork.
The path to the left would leave each city or town to pursue Community Power on its own, relying on a mystifying network of brokers and middlemen for guidance. The path to the right led to Joint Action: the formation of a public nonprofit on which cities and towns could rely for transparent and accountable Community Power implementation.
Over the course of 2020, as national and global pandemonium reached a crescendo, a sub-group born of that December meeting chose the right path and stayed the course, adapting to our new virtual world. From Hanover came Town Manager Julia Griffin and Sustainability Director April Salas, fiercely determined clean energy leaders. From Lebanon, Assistant Mayor Clifton Below stepped up, the wizard of the legislature whose pen has transformed the state’s energy markets time and time again. Cheshire County contributed two Administrators, Chris Coates and Rod Bouchard, steadfast trail blazers clearing the way for other counties and communities to follow. Lastly, from Nashua, Energy Manager Doria Brown joined, youthful and brilliant, on a mission to bring equity to energy.
Alongside other community, technical and legal advisors, this diverse, cross-generational team of leaders pooled their resources and designed a new corporate body, a civic institution, one to be governed by community leaders to serve community needs. They named it Community Power Coalition, and in January, Hanover and Lebanon became the first municipalities to join.
The Coalition approach to Community Power is based on national best practices. There are many benefits of the Coalition approach, but two key aspects are (1) good governance; and (2) joint risk management.
Good Governance for Community Power
Community Power entails active management of many millions of dollars of electricity purchases and sales. It is important that the structure for governing those transactions is transparent, accountable and subject to oversight by representatives of the communities it serves.
Each city, town or county to join the Coalition may appoint a representative to the Coalition’s Board of Directors. All governance level decisions will be made by the corporate body of the municipalities that make up the Coalition. This ensures that the Coalition’s finances, power purchases, cashflow, and revenue are all transparent and controlled by the communities who make up the Coalition.
The Coalition houses technical and operational staff and vendors in a shared manner, making top industry expertise available to all members. Education is a core aspect of the Coalition’s mission, helping local officials and community leaders learn about and navigate the power sector so they may make informed decisions.
Navigating the Waters of Energy Risk Management
Like navigating a river from its headwaters through its streams, and eventually through the pools and lakes, operating a large-scale electric power supply venture is complex and risky.
The headwaters of Community Power lie in wholesale electricity markets, where the Coalition will actively manage a portfolio of large-scale electricity contracts on behalf of its members. It costs money, people and time to manage wholesale power purchases. The Coalition enhances economies of scale, diversifies the risk pool, and shares operational costs across all members to maximize efficiency and eliminate redundancy. The Coalition will provide the expertise to jointly manage risks associated with purchasing large amounts of electricity.
From its wholesale headwaters, electricity must flow through the murky rivers of monopoly transmission and distribution utilities (and the statehouse and regulatory tomfoolery that come from them). Utilities are well known for their outsized influence over state legislative and regulatory affairs. Together, the Coalition is best equipped to fully understand the nuances of state utility regulation, neutralize risks (like House Bill 315), and work together to ensure smart policies and regulations that maximize our ability to innovate and create value for our communities.
Ah, and welcome dear reader, to the lakes and pools, the retail establishments and homes where human beings gather to live, work and play. Community Power and the Coalition present many opportunities to lower costs and innovate in our retail electricity markets. We can prioritize sourcing power from our residents’ rooftop solar arrays, and other local power sources. We can design time-of-use rates for distributed energy storage and electric vehicle charging. We can partner with NHSaves to improve energy efficiency, conservation, and load management programs for our communities. The Coalition will empower individual cities and towns to innovate on energy, and provide a means to share those innovations across its membership.
The Coalition would like to thank the following members of the Organizing Group: Dori Drachman, Mary Day Mordecai, Ned Hulbert, Tad Montgomery, Everett Hammond, Andrea Hodson, Dr. Amro Farid, Samuel Golding, and Michael Postar. The Coalition also recognizes the countless citizens, public servants, industry professionals, and energy committee members who have contributed and will continue to contribute to New Hampshire’s Community Power saga.
Henry Herndon is a community organizer and an expert in energy policy. He is currently under contract with the City of Lebanon to support the launch phase of Community Power Coalition.