© 2024
Local NPR for the Cape, Coast & Islands 90.1 91.1 94.3
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Community power programs to launch in 14 New Hampshire towns, offering cheaper electricity than major utilities

Hanover is one of the towns adopting community power this spring.
Daniela Allee
/
NHPR
Hanover is one of the towns adopting community power this spring.

Fourteen New Hampshire communities plan to offer community power programs this spring with lower rates than New Hampshire’s major utility companies.

Community power was made possible under a 2019 change in state law that allows municipalities to buy electricity for their residents instead of traditional utility companies, giving customers another option for prices and other services.

Utility companies will still deliver that electricity, and customers can opt out of community power programs and stay with their utility’s default service rate if they choose.

The first 10 communities to launch programs — Enfield, Exeter, Hanover, Harrisville, Lebanon, Nashua, Peterborough, Plainfield, Rye and Walpole — plan to start serving customers in May. All are affiliated with the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire, a statewide nonprofit.

The coalition is offering a rate of 15.8 cents per kilowatt hour, which would save the average customer between $20 and $40 a month, depending on their utility and how much power they use. That rate includes the state’s minimum amount of renewable energy — about 23%. Some towns may use a slightly higher default rate — about 16.2 cents — which includes 33% renewable energy. Rates are expected to change after three months, as energy markets change and the coalition continues to procure electricity.

“The launch of these programs will change how our communities and customers engage with our electricity system,” Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire board chair Clifton Below said at a Monday press conference. “We now have the power as communities to help lead the evolution of the electricity system to best serve our local and regional needs.”

Four other communities — Keene, Swanzey, Marlborough and Wilton — plan to launch community power programs in June, with even lower rates. Those municipalities, which worked with consultants from Standard Power and Good Energy, will have rates that range from a default of 11.47 cents per kilowatt hour that includes 33% renewable energy to a 100% renewable option priced 13.9 cents per kilowatt hour. Those towns will also have a basic rate of 11.1 cents, which meets the state’s minimum renewable energy requirement.

“The goals of pursuing Community Power were to save money and increase renewable energy, and we did it” said Kermit Williams, Wilton’s Select Board Chair, in a statement. “Next steps are to get the word out. No resident or business should be surprised by Community Power, even if it is a good surprise of 25% savings on your electric bill.”

Residents in places adopting community power should receive letters in the mail with more information starting in the last week of March.

Community power can also help spur the development of renewable sources of electricity. The Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire is also offering packages with more renewable energy – up to 100% with a package priced at 19.1 cents per kilowatt hour – for members, which will be procured through renewable energy credits. But through community power, New Hampshire municipalities could also start seeing more local renewable power production.

“Over time, what’s exciting about the coalition is the ability to actually contract with developers to build new community-scale renewable energy generation, and that is something we will develop over time,” said Henry Herndon, a consultant for the coalition.

Residents who use net metering or those using time of use rates with Liberty or Unitil won’t be able to sign up for community power yet, according to the coalition. Below said that was, in part, because utility companies haven’t prepared to support those kinds of customers through the transition.

“I am admittedly frustrated about the manner in which certain utility companies are preventing and limiting us from the most innovative and exciting aspects of community power,” Below said, noting that providing services for customers who want to generate their own power or adopt new technology is central to the organization’s mission.

For net metering customers, the coalition says they need more data from the utilities to be able to enroll them in aggregation programs.

“There are some technical processes and business processes that need to be adjusted on the utilities side of things,” Herndon said. “There has been indication that utilities want to work with community power to allow community power to serve all types of customers including those who generate their own electricity, we just don’t have a firm timeline.”

The state’s largest utility, Eversource, says it supports community power.

“We support customer choice and want all of our customers to pay the lowest cost for electric supply, whether that's in a community power program from another alternative competitive supplier or receiving our energy service or basic service rate,” said Eversource spokesperson William Hinkle.

Utilities will continue providing default service for customers in their service territory who opt out of community power and in communities that do not adopt community power programs.

Eversource and New Hampshire’s other major utility companies don’t profit off of the sale of electricity; they make money in other ways. Those companies don’t own the resources that generate power, they just pass along the cost of buying that power through to consumers.

Right now, they’re only allowed to procure that power once every six months — under a rule that could change as the Public Utilities Commission considers a docket exploring new ways of buying power.

“The energy markets have been extremely volatile and we've seen unprecedented increases, largely due to the cost of natural gas,” said Hinkle. “We encourage our customers with all of these options out there for energy supply to evaluate what's out there for them and what's available to them to ensure that they're paying the lowest possible price because these market conditions are going to continue to change.”

Updated: March 15, 2023 at 1:34 PM EDT
This story has been updated to clarify the differences between basic and default rates for different community power providers.
Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.