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Keene community power plan denied as state rulemaking process continues

  • Jun 21, 2022
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Source: 
Keene Sentinel

Jun. 21—The N.H. Public Utilities Commission recently denied Keene's proposed community power plan, but according to Senior Planner Mari Brunner, that's not a bad thing.

"We were excited when we got the news," Brunner said Monday, adding that the city was expecting the PUC to reject the plan, since the commission is still in the process of establishing rules for such programs.

Under a community power arrangement — such as the ones Harrisville approved last year, and Swanzey, Marlborough and Walpole earlier this year — a municipal government rather than a utility sources electricity for local consumers. This gives the municipality more control over the power supply, allowing it to seek lower-cost or greener options, while a utility continues to maintain transmission lines and deliver the electricity.

The city, which submitted its plan to the state on April 11, was primarily seeking feedback from the PUC at this point, Brunner said. In their June 9 order denying Keene's plan, the PUC's three commissioners wrote that the proposal didn't sufficiently describe the city's intended relationship with electricity distributors, such as Eversource and Liberty Utilities.

"Keene has submitted a plan that substantially meets the applicable procedural requirement of" the state law authorizing community power plans, the commissioners wrote. "... Where we find the Keene Plan lacks specificity is in the aggregation Plan's relationship and interface with the franchised electricity energy distribution utility."

These sorts of details are still being ironed out in the PUC's rulemaking process, the commissioners added. These proposed rules are scheduled for a final vote on July 5.

"Therefore, to the extent that the implementation of the Plan will be affected by, and likely rely upon future rules, we conclude that the proposed Plan substantially fails to meet applicable requirements at this time," they wrote. "As the rulemaking proceeding to develop these rules is underway, the City is not at fault for this deficiency."

Having received feedback, Brunner said the city will now be prepared to resubmit its proposal when the commission's rules are published next month. The PUC denied Keene's request without prejudice, meaning the city can resubmit it. The commissioners also encouraged the city "to resubmit an amended plan when the rulemaking process is closer completion or has concluded," they wrote.

The rules will cover a variety of topics, including the relationship between municipal and county aggregators and distribution utilities, access to customer data for planning and operation, metering and billing, according to the PUC.

Keene's Community Power Plan, adopted by City Council in May 2021, is a program that aims to pool the electric use of residents, businesses and property owners and give their consumers more of a say in where the electricity comes from and how much it costs. Keene was the first municipality in New Hampshire to pass one of these programs. Legislation allowing for community power plans took effect in 2019.

The commission must respond within 60 days, a result of HB 315, which Brunner said caused delays in the PUC's rule making process, which began in January. After the PUC's approval, she said the proposed power plan will go back to City Council for a final vote before the program's launch. Informational meetings for residents will also be scheduled beforehand to answer questions anyone might have.

After the PUC approves the final rules for community power plans, governing bodies are authorized to make minor tweaks and then resubmit the plans to the PUC or submit them for the first time, according to Henry Herndon, an energy consultant affiliated with Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire. The nonprofit, established last year, assists municipalities and counties with establishing community power programs.

Similarly, Harrisville, the other Cheshire County town that has requested approval, was denied primarily for failing to meet the rules that haven't yet been finalized.

Currently, Keene's default power utility is Eversource. If approved, the community power plan would allow Keene put out a bid for an electricity supplier to provide the necessary electricity at competitive prices, and offer a greater proportion of renewable energy than the state standard.

Keene's community power plan is a central tenant of the city's broader plan, which the City Council adopted in early 2021, to move to 100 percent renewable sourcing for electricity by 2030 and for thermal and transportation energy by 2050.

Under the city's proposed plan, Eversource customers would be eligible for automatic enrollment in the program, with the freedom to opt out any time, Brunner said.

Anyone who gets electricity through a third party would be ineligible for automatic enrollment, but they could still enroll in the program if they swapped their power supplier.

Brunner said she hopes the program will launch this winter, but that timeline isn't concrete.

"If we have an opportunity to offer this, then it's something we should be doing," she said. "We're seeing energy prices going up in the summer, during a time when that typically doesn't happen."

According to Eversource, New Hampshire energy prices are at an all-time high this summer, and customers who use 600 kilowatt hours of power each month will see a bill increase of approximately $71.39 per month.

Liberty Utilities, meanwhile, filed a proposal with the state PUC last week to double its rate for electricity consumption among residential customers, effective August 1.

Whereas Liberty currently charges 11.11 cents per kilowatt hour, the company is planning to charge 22.23 cents, which would increase monthly electric bills by 47 percent.

Hunter Oberst can be reached at 355-8546, or hoberst@keenesentinel.com. Tom Benoit can be reached at tbenoit@keenesentinel.com.

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(c)2022 The Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H.)

Visit The Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H.) at www.sentinelsource.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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