Hanover, New Hampshire, started acting on a switch to renewable energy some time ago. Clearly, that happened long before 2017, when its residents voted at town meeting to became the first town in New Hampshire, and the 29th in the country, to commit to 100% renewable energy by 2050.
The commitment to using 100% renewable energy is a great goal, but the details of implementing it require some thought and good hard work. After extensive efforts by the town’s Electric Aggregation Committee, Hanover was ready this year to put the Hanover Community Power Electric Aggregation Plan to the town meeting for a vote.
One thing that Hanover needed before passing its plan was amendment of the municipal aggregation statute, RSA 53-E, which allows municipalities and counties to aggregate the purchase of electricity. The amendment allows customers to “opt out” of a municipal aggregation rather than requiring them to opt in, which insures a higher level of customer participation. That amendment was signed into law in the fall of 2019 which meant municipal aggregation was finally viable in NH. Aggregation combines the buying power of customers within the area doing it, and there are a number of ways that is useful.
Community aggregation makes it possible for electric customers to pool their electricity demand and buy at lower rates than if they were each paying at the default retail rate separately. Importantly, it also means that the customers can decide, as a group, what to use as sources of the electricity they use, including both the technologies and the actual generators. The result is that electricity generated from renewable sources, such as solar photovoltaics and wind turbines, can usually be purchased at rates below what the customers had been paying for electricity generated by burning fossil fuels.
The fact that customers can buy their electricity in this way is very important. With community aggregation, it is not just a matter of customers saying what they want, it is customers contracting for what they want. And under the terms of aggregation contracts, we might say that the sun shines, the wind blows, or we are provided with an alternative just as clean.
These are not the only advantages of community aggregation. Issues of fiscal stability, local resources, local jobs, resilience, and grid modernization are also addressed. Fairness is a central issue of the plan. As a matter of fact, anyone who thinks the plan is unfair or has any other reason to object to it has the right to opt out and continue to buy electricity from the utility’s default generating sources, even fossil fuels, at the standard utility price. Please note, however, that by opting out, the customer would almost certainly be paying more.
After considerable preparation, the issue went before the town meeting on Tuesday, July 13. The scene of this town meeting may have seemed almost surreal because of the demands for safety in the era of Covid-19. Dewey Field was the site of what has been termed a “drive in town meeting. Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin told us that by the time that the issue came up, she found it hard to see hands going up. Nevertheless, it was clear to her and to others that the vote was a resounding “Yes.” In fact, it seemed to be unanimous.
The vote authorizes the Select Board to proceed on power aggregation, which is far too complicated to happen all at once. The hope is that the actual aggregation will be ready to implement by spring of 2022.
One other thing to remember about this is that while Hanover Community Power is very important, bringing it into is just a step in the overall goal of running 100% on renewable energy, Hanover’s ultimate goal.
Julia Griffin expressed delight in the result of the vote. It reinforces the leadership role of Hanover and provides a model that other communities can follow to their advantage.