By Bob Haring-Smith and Dori Drachman, PREP Co-Coordinators
Our current environmental situation demands a collective response. The climate crisis has progressed to the point where only concerted action by all levels of society will forestall its worst impacts. Individual action will not be enough. Already in New Hampshire, we are seeing warmer winters that curtail skiing and disrupt maple syrup harvests, creating unfortunate economic effects. Such weather also allows pests such as ticks to proliferate. Reduced snowfall accelerates warming by exposing the ground, which absorbs heat, rather than covering it with a blanket of reflective snow. How can a community work together constructively to address this problem?
Peterborough has responded by overwhelming passage of Article 11 at last year’s town meeting, committing institutions, businesses, and residents to use exclusively renewable energy to generate electricity by 2030 and to provide heat and transportation by 2050. The Article mandated the creation of a committee to draw up an initial plan for achieving these goals. Since last summer, a volunteer team of energetic Peterborough residents, called the Peterborough Renewable Energy Planning (PREP) Team, has been gathering ideas, data, and community input to formulate that plan. The PREP Team is to complete its work by the end of this year, but draft components of the plan will be released as they are written, to allow for public feedback and revision. The first of these components, covering electricity, should be ready next month.
Crucially, the plan that we are developing focuses on how the Town can support transitions by families and businesses toward greater use of affordable renewable energy. What financial resources can be marshaled to invest in expanding local renewable energy generation and to help residents with energy conservation projects such as weatherization? How can we provide information and advice to those contemplating the replacement of a boiler, furnace, car, appliance, or other energy-consuming device? What town policies will promote local renewable energy generation and greater energy efficiency?
The first collective step that we can take toward the goals set by Article 11 is adoption of a Community Power program under a state law passed in 2019 with bipartisan support. With such a program, the combined buying power of everyone in town who participates will cut the cost of their electrical energy while simultaneously directing more of those energy dollars to renewable sources. Over time (by 2030, we hope) all our residential electrical energy will be coming from renewable sources, and we will have achieved much of our first goal very economically. Keene and Harrisville have already approved Community Power plans, while Peterborough, along with several other Monadnock towns including Wilton, Marlborough, and Dublin, has formed a committee to create a plan.
You will be hearing much more about Community Power in Peterborough over the next few months as the Town’s Community Power Task Force finalizes a plan for us to vote on at this year’s Town Meeting. Look for notices of two public hearings on the plan to be held in February.
Once the combination of Community Power and other measures has moved electricity to renewable sources of energy, the next steps would be to convert transportation and heating to use electricity through adoption of electric vehicles and energy-efficient heat pumps. That would result in all those energy uses relying entirely on renewable sources.
Of course, the cheapest energy of all is the energy we don’t use. Energy efficiency measures can significantly reduce our energy consumption and lower our energy bills. Weatherization and insulation of buildings, use of Energy Star appliances, installation of energy-efficient lighting, and other practices that reduce energy consumption save us money around the clock. Further, by reducing peak demand for electrical energy, they also spare us costly energy generation projects and thus hold down the cost of the energy we do consume. Achieving these latter benefits, though, like much of what we are doing to fight climate change, entails action from all of us.
We hope that everyone in Peterborough will be inspired (dare we say energized) by our plan when we complete it. And we hope other communities in the area will be inspired to begin their own collective response to climate change, if they have not already. Peterborough residents are invited to share their ideas, concerns, or feedback on the plan at one of the many “PREP Talks” we have been holding to gather community input, or by completing the brief survey we have prepared. Links to register for a PREP Talk and to the survey can be found on the homepage of our website at prepnh.org. The site also has a contact form through which you can send any questions or comments you may have. We appreciate everyone’s involvement in this effort to protect the environment, save money, and preserve the vibrancy and resilience of the Peterborough community.