Peterborough Community Power Task Force moves forward

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Peterborough’s Community Power Task Force, which has been working since September 2021 to develop a community power plan for the town, hopes to release the name of the organization they’ve chosen to handle their plan at the Dec. 20 Select Board meeting.

Community power plans, which allow residents to purchase power at lower rates and choose renewable sources of power, have been taking place in states such as California and Massachusetts for years, according to Joel Huberman, co-chair of Peterborough Community Power Task Force.

In 1996, RSA 374-F passed, a restructuring of the public utilities that called for full retail access for New Hampshire residents and municipalities by March 1998.

“This opened up the market to electric ratepayers in the state to select alternate energy suppliers,” said Tony Cassady, who chairs the task force with Huberman.“That’s when the ratepayers finally had a choice and weren’t locked into what the utility was generating.”

Also in 1996, RSA 53-E passed with the aim of allowing counties and municipalities to access and implement the competitive electricity market so as to “encourage voluntary, cost-effective and innovative solutions to local needs with careful consideration of local conditions and opportunities.” The latest amendments in recent years to RSA 53-E allow for customers to opt out of aggregate programs should they wish to do so.

With a community power plan, Peterborough will will be able to have Peterborough Community Power as its electric supplier for ratepayers, Cassady explained.

“So, rather than ratepayers having to go out and either accept the Eversource Energy default service for their electricity supply, or to go to one of the handful of alternative electricity suppliers that they can choose from, Peterborough Community Power will go out and do all that shopping for them,” he said.

This will include allowing customers to have a better mix of renewable energy sources, Cassady added. In 2021, Peterborough Town Meeting approved renewable energy goals which include moving to 100 percent renewable energy sources for electricity for the town by 2030 and 100 percent renewable energy for all sources of energy by 2050.

“That set in motion the Select Board creating the Community Power Task Force,” Cassady said, explaining that community power is a key way of achieving the goal of 100 percent renewable sources of electricity by 2030.

The Peterborough Renewable Energy Planning (PREP) team is the committee appointed to come up with a plan that achieves the two goals as well as others.

“We’re a component of that,” Cassady said.

PREP and the Community Power Task Force were conceived around the same time, Hubbard said, explaining that the task force is set up as an official town committee and PREP as a non-official committee. The distinction means that PREP has more freedom than the task force, which is constrained by New Hampshire’s right-to-know laws.

“Every meeting we have needs to be open to the public and the meeting has to be announced at least two days ahead and held in publicly accessible locations,” Huberman said. “The agenda also has to be announced ahead of the meeting and the minutes of the meetings must be made public.”

The distinction was made, Huberman explained, in order to give the PREP team more freedom in the way it organized itself and the way it scheduled meetings, as well as the way the members of the PREP team could interact with each other.

One of the constraints of an official committee like the Community Power Task Force is that, like the Select Board, a quorum of members cannot speak to each other outside of the public meetings about its business.

“That's the kind of constraint an official committee has. But an official committee also has an advantage,” Huberman said, explaining that an official committee has input with the town administration and the Select Board. “This may allow for a somewhat higher priority than a non-official committee.”

Three bidders

The task force prepared a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for organizations to potential procure power and interface with customers, and members discussed the responses Nov. 30. The three bidders are a partnership between Standard Power, a traditional power broker for municipalities which has already been used in Peterborough, and Good Energy, which would help with procurement and metering; Colonial Power Group, based in Massachusetts; and the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire (CPCNH), which includes a business model called a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA), which would allow for contracts to be made between towns, counties and school districts.

“Those are all of the bidders,” Huberman said, adding that CPCNH will eventually be its own procurer of electricity, interfacing directly with ISO-New England. “The other companies, such as Standard and Good Energy, work on the broker model and this goes out to competitive electricity suppliers.”

Brokers, Huberman said, charge a much lower rate per kilowatt-hour (kWh).

“[Brokers] charge a small fee, that amounts to one-tenth of one cent per kilowatt-hour,” he said. “With the JPA envisioned by CPCNH, there is no profit. Their hope is that by taking over duties done by the broker that there will be economies of scale and efficiency that will lead to even lower rates.”

Cassady said a list of questions was developed and has been submitted to the three organizations, and the task force will meet this week to get closer to choosing which one is the best. The goal is to recommend one organization to the Select Board Dec. 20.

Since the enactment of Chapter 53-E in 1996, several municipalities and regions have implemented aggregation plans or organized as aggregators, including Manchester, Lebanon, the Lakes Region Planning Commission, the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission and Nashua.

Under the Peterborough Community Power Plan, the town will buy electricity in bulk for its residents and small businesses. The plan’s goal is to help ratepayers save money on their electric bills, while also getting more energy from renewable sources. The plan will be self-funding, with no amount to be raised from taxation. Each ratepayer will be able to choose from among four optional rate tiers, with varying percentages of renewable energy and rates, or they may opt-out of the plan if desired.

“We can easily envision that by 2030 the cheap rate will be the 100 percent renewable rate,” Huberman said. “There’s no way fossil fuels can continue to be produced as inexpensively as renewable energy can.”

For Cassady, a former engineer with experience designing building control systems, and Huberman, a retired molecular biologist who began studying climate science after retirement, the work they’re doing for the task force is important personally. Huberman said he embraces the opportunity to do whatever he can to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy.

“We’ve got to stop burning fossil fuels because they're warming up the planet … potentially to a disastrous point,” he said, adding that the pollution generated by the burning of fossil fuels also presents a number of health risks, including stillbirths and respiratory diseases. “I have three grandchildren and I care not only about them, but about everybody’s grandchildren.”

Secondary to this, Cassady pointed out, is the opportunity to save the residents of Peterborough money on their utility bills. The main point, he continued, is getting more renewables.

“Like Joel said, we have got to get off the fossil fuels and I think everybody pretty much knows that,” he said. “So many people talk about this and agree to it, but when it comes to actually taking action, they're waiting on someone else to take that action. We’re taking that action to a degree.”