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What's Next For Community Power In N.H.?

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As local officials in New Hampshire look for ways to lower energy costs and develop renewable energy projects, some cities and towns are turning toward community power plans. It's been a long journey for advocates of community power in New Hampshire, one that involved changing state law. 

 

Clifton Below is a former public utilities commissioner. Years ago, he helped author legislation that deregulated the utility sector in New Hampshire. He now serves as the Assistant Mayor of Lebanon. NHPR's Morning Edition host Rick Ganley spoke with Below about the work he's been doing on community power in New Hampshire and its future in the state.

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Rick Ganley: First, Clifton, could you explain more about why you believe community power plans would benefit local cities and towns?

Clifton Below: We've had customer choice in New Hampshire now for over 20 years of the generation supply, who puts the power into grid that you take out. Mostly large customers have benefited from this the most. Generally, most small customers, residential and business, stay on utility provided default service. Community power aggregation allows trusted municipally sponsored vendors to be able to compete against that default service and provide lower rates and/or greener power.

Rick Ganley: So we're talking about more local control for municipalities, lower energy bills, hopefully, and as you said, renewable projects here. Some of this still needs to get established through new legislation that the governor has yet to sign. As part of that legislation, the state would also allow municipalities, like Lebanon, to net meter up to five megawatts of energy. How big a deal is that?

Clifton Below: Well, that's significant. It's a step towards enabling one to five megawatt projects in New Hampshire that haven't really been enabled currently. And there's other aspects to the law that might go further in making that an option to develop new local distributed energy and storage projects.

Rick Ganley: How big is five megawatts? Can we put that into context?

Clifton Below: Sure. It's still on sort of the community scale size of things. Seabrook, for instance, is over 1,100 megawatts. So that's a very large power plant. The dams on the Connecticut River might be 15, 20, 30 megawatts. Most communities of any size probably typically have five megawatts or more of demand.

Rick Ganley: And that is the governor in support of this? Is he likely to sign it?

Clifton Below: Yes, the expansion of net metering for municipalities, I believe the legislation was crafted to the satisfaction of the governor's office.

Rick Ganley: Do you have an idea of how many communities or cities across the state are interested in this?

Clifton Below: Well, we've seen interest from dozens of communities at this point. Six municipalities have voted to join the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire. And there's another half a dozen that are very actively considering it. And there's several dozen who are maybe not first movers, but who are monitoring the situation and likely to pursue it at some point.

Rick Ganley: Is there a profile of the type of community that is more interested than another? Is it smaller towns, smaller municipalities? Is it cities?

Clifton Below: We're seeing it across the board from very small communities, like Harrisville, and cities like Nashua, which is the second largest city in the state. So it runs the gamut. Communities that particularly have climate goals and policies to support development of renewable energy, they seem to be showing the greatest interest at this point. In other states, communities that were primarily interested in just lower costs have also been active. And I think there's options for both in New Hampshire.

Rick Ganley: You've been involved with this work for over 30 years now. How optimistic are you feeling about the future of community power here in New Hampshire and the state's approach to climate change and energy in general?

Clifton Below: I think it has a lot of potential to really help accelerate the integration of distributed energy resources in a way that's cost effective. And I think that's the key. Everybody wants to do things as frugally and as cost-effectively as possible in New Hampshire. And this is a vehicle to do that.

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