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State regulators delay vote on community power rules

Michael Kappel
Flickr CC

State regulators postponed a long-awaited vote on rules that will govern community power programs in New Hampshire, citing a scheduling conflict. The vote was expected Tuesday.

It’s been three years since a state law made it possible for Granite Staters to get their electricity through community power. Under that system, municipalities can source power on behalf of residents instead of utility companies or competitive energy suppliers.

The state’s Public Utilities Commission has not yet finished the rulemaking process for those programs. Some communities have had their finished plans rejected, in part because of the lack of rules.

“This is really the last piece of the puzzle to get going, to start the process of building the programs from the plans that the communities have written,” Emily Manns, a community power consultant with Standard Power, said in an interview ahead of the announcement.

Similar programs in Massachusetts have saved utility ratepayers money and spurred demand for renewable energy, and community power advocates in New Hampshire are working towards the same goals.

Clifton Below, who chairs the board of the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire, said delays in the process have been frustrating.

“They've had the authority to do this for two and a half years now, and it's just unfortunate that it's taking so long,” he said.

Below is also assistant mayor in Lebanon, one of several cities that has adopted a community power plan. He said there is some urgency among residents to get it going, as electricity rates go up.

“They're wondering ‘when are we going to be able to launch?,’” he said. “What I've been having to say to people is, 'well, it just depends on when these rules get adopted.'”

The delay could have a ripple effect in terms of when communities would be able to launch their programs. Because of the way utility companies source their power, Below said, timing is important to save community power customers money.

Utility companies in New Hampshire set new prices twice a year, and to compete against utility prices, community power programs need to know what those prices are, he said. Then, they need time to create a portfolio of resources that can reduce prices or create value in other ways for their customers.

That means the sweet spot for launching community power would be in the spring of 2023. Eversource, the state’s largest utility, will have a new rate taking effect in February.

If the rules take too long, programs may need to launch in another potential window in the fall, Below said.

But, he said, the delay may not have much of an impact. The final rules proposal still need approval from the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules, and that body would not have been able to take up the rules until August.

In a statement to NHPR, Michelle Bunnemeyer, staff attorney at the Commission, said the meeting's postponement would not affect the timeline for community power rules. She said the new vote on July 27 would keep the schedule on track for the rules to be taken up by the legislative committee in August.

"The Commission remains committed to expeditiously moving forward to adopt rules which will enable the formation of community power aggregations in New Hampshire," Bunnemeyer wrote.

The delay came as a disappointment to community power proponent Henry Herndon, who helped start the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire.

“State regulators continue to stand in the way of communities benefiting from rate relief and other benefits of community power programs,” he said.

Updated: July 6, 2022 at 4:22 PM EDT
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comments from the Public Utilities Commission.
Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.
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