Five years later, New Hampshire’s community power law is reshaping the electricity market

Five years later, New Hampshire’s community power law is reshaping the electricity market

Member towns in New Hampshire’s year-old Community Power Coalition are reaping the benefits of banding together to buy electricity on their own. 

As of Feb. 1, residential and small commercial customers in the coalition’s 16 active member communities will pay a base electricity rate of 8.1 cents per kilowatt-hour, a 26% reduction from their already-competitive rate of 10.9 cents per kWh.

Another 29 communities are planning to enjoy the lower rate after they launch their own programs this spring, effectively making the statewide coalition the second-largest electrical supplier in the state.

“The community power program has been a great success,” said Jackson Kaspari, resilience manager for the city of Dover and a member of the coalition’s board of directors. Since Dover launched its program last October, for example, residential and commercial customers have saved an estimated $500,000, he said.

The new rate, which will be in effect through July 31, is lower than the default residential rate offered by every other electric utility in the state: 24% below Unitil, 20% below the New Hampshire Electric Co-op, 17% below Liberty, and 2% below Eversource.

The estimated savings for customers in all member communities for the next six-month rate period is around $3.2 million, said Brian Callnan, the coalition’s first chief executive officer, and formerly the vice president of power resources and access at the New Hampshire Electric Co-op.

New Hampshire’s community power law, signed into law in 2019, authorizes municipalities to procure their own power, instead of buying it through their local distribution company. The distribution companies continue to deliver the electricity and handle billing. 

The coalition uses the collective buying power of all of their residents and businesses to secure competitive rates in the wholesale market. Their ability to be flexible in the timing of energy procurements enables them to find value, Callnan said.

“We don’t have to purchase power at a given time period,” he said. In contrast, “the investor-owned utilities don’t have that flexibility” in their regulated procurement process.

The coalition’s base rate — called the Granite Basic — includes 24.3% renewable content, the minimum required under the state’s renewable portfolio standard. But customers may choose to pay slightly higher rates for greater proportions of renewable power.

Opting up to the highest level — the Clean 100, with 100% renewable power — would still only raise the average residential customer’s bill an estimated $29 a month over the basic rate, while eliminating more than two tons of carbon emissions per  year, according to John Tabor, chair councilor of the Portsmouth Energy Advisory Committee.

“Portsmouth Community Power customers could reduce their carbon footprint from electricity the same as if they converted their homes to solar panels, at a fraction of the cost,” Tabor said in a statement released at the time of the new rate announcement.

Currently, about 90% of customers have chosen to stay with the Granite Basic product, Callnan said.

The revenue from electricity sales cover the nonprofit coalition’s operating costs, with the balance going into reserves. Every member community is allocated their portion of the collected reserves in the nonprofit. Member communities will also have an opportunity to create a reserve fund on their own to pursue other energy-related projects in their towns, such as improving building efficiency or developing solar projects. 

The coalition could potentially partner with a community hosting a solar project and take up some of that power, he said.

“Pretty much all the communities have ideas for projects or are working on projects,” Callnan said. “To me, that’s the exciting part of this — we can really make an impact on how a community uses energy. There are no renewable projects under development from within our communities right now, but we could see that happen in 2025.”

Dover’s energy commission is considering a multi-phased program to improve energy efficiency in their municipal buildings, Kaspari said. They have also evaluated some sites for building solar, such as at the city’s wastewater treatment facility, he said. 

“Being a member of the coalition has given us new perspectives on a lot of things and opened the door for information sharing with other municipalities,” Kaspari said. “That’s one of the most powerful aspects of the coalition at this time — leaders in the energy sector talking to each other from across the state.” 

Five years later, New Hampshire’s community power law is reshaping the electricity market is an article from Energy News Network, a nonprofit news service covering the clean energy transition. If you would like to support us please make a donation.

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