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Public Utilities Commission starts the process to make rules for community power programs

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Sam Evans-Brown
/
NHPR

In 2019, New Hampshire adopted a law allowing local governments to create "community power programs," controlling the procurement of electricity for community members. But state regulators need to create some rules for how those programs will work before community power programs begin. In a Monday order, the Public Utilities Commission began the formal process to make those rules.

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“Now we have an actual clock that is counting down towards the launch of New Hampshire's community power market, which is very exciting for the communities that are working on this,” said Henry Herndon, an energy consultant who helped create the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire.

Community power programs across the country started as a way for people to save money on electricity, said Emily Manns, a community power consultant with Standard Power. But advocates for renewable energy have embraced the idea as a way to develop more green power.

“It’s the renewable energy that gets people excited about it, but then the cost savings bring along the rest of the community and can add a positive feedback loop,” she said.

Manns also said community power programs also help start conversations about energy at the local level.

“Some of the communities we have worked with, the community power committee is the first energy-related committee that they have developed. But they talk already about staying together and doing more energy-related issues,” she said.

The PUC opted to adopt a proposal for a draft set of rules recommended by a group of stakeholders that included the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire and Standard Power, instead of a proposal from the state’s Department of Energy. The rules would govern the implementation and operation of community power programs and their relationship to utility companies.

The proposals were very similar, Herndon said, and both came out of a collaborative stakeholder process. The Department of Energy proposed integrating community power rules with existing rules for competitive energy suppliers, while the adopted proposal would create a standalone set of rules.

According to the PUC’s Monday order, Commissioner Carleton Simpson motioned to deny the Department of Energy’s proposal in favor of the stakeholder group’s proposal saying a separate chapter for rules seemed more aligned with community power legislation.

Herndon says it could be six months or more before the rules are in place. But, the Commission’s Monday order made him cautiously optimistic.

“It's a breath of fresh air to see the new commissioners taking an active interest in community power … after years and years of delay at the Public Utility Commission,” he said.