Community power offering cheaper electricity approved at Canterbury town meeting

  • Louis Scribner quietly knitted while her husband Howard Moffett stood at the front on the gymnasium to explain how almost everyone in town could start saving money by approving Canterbury’s Community Power Plan.  Jonathan Van Fleet—Monitor staff

  • Canterbury residents voted in favor of every item on the town meeting warrant Friday night. Sitting in the front row was Scott Doherty, the deputy fire chief who won a seat on the Board of Selectmen during Tuesday’s election. Selectmen Chairman Bob Steenson did not for re-election. Sitting next to Doherty was Fire Captain Craig Simpson. Jonathan Van Fleet—Monitor staff

  • Canterbury residents voted in favor of every item on the town meeting warrant Friday night. Sitting in the front row was Scott Doherty, the deputy fire chief, who won a seat on the Board of Selectmen during Tuesday’s election. Selectman Chairman Bob Steenson did not for re-election. Sitting next to Doherty was Fire Captain Craig Simpson. Jonathan Van Fleet / Monitor staff

  • Louis Scribner quietly knits during Canterbury’s Town Meeting on Friday night. Sitting next to her is Howard Moffett, her husband. Jonathan Van Fleet / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/18/2023 2:05:06 PM

Howard Moffett stood next to the placard that listed the prevailing electricity rates for the two major energy suppliers in Canterbury.

“We’ve talked a lot about how to spend money; now we get to talk about how to save money,” Moffett said.

Unitil charges 25.9 cents per kilowatt hour, while Eversource charges 20.2 cents. A new community power initiative would offer rates of 15.8 cents per kilowatt hour to anyone in   town who wanted to lower their rates. But first, voters at Friday night’s Town Meeting needed to approve a plan to automatically enroll all rate payers who would save money. Anyone who wanted to remain with their current rates could opt out.

Moffett, a former state representative, explained how the rates were so much lower.

“The Community Power Coalition will be buying bulk power at much lower rates than the utilities because they have much more flexibility,” Moffett said. “We’ll get the benefit of that.”

Cumulatively, residents would save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

“Bottom line is we get together as a community and other communities and buy our power at a cheaper rate,” said Board of Selectmen Chairman Bob Steenson.

Steenson thanked the team of volunteers who worked on the community power plan, including Moffett.

“This was a very heavy lift,” Steenson said.

Residents gave a round of applause and voted in favor of the plan, which will only launch if it provides lower rates.

The meeting, which had about 200 people in attendance, had moments of levity amid serious business.

An article to spend $7,000 to refinish the floors in Town Hall drew a reaction from resident Theresa Wyman, who said she was an avid contra dancer and wanted to make sure dancing would still be allowed after the floors were redone.

After a bit of laughter, she was assured dancing would still be allowed.

The first item of the night, which was one of the most contentious, was a decision to spend $850,000 on a new fire truck.

“There’s nothing like a fire truck to drive turnout,” Steenson deadpanned. “I’ve thought about putting one on the warrant every year.”

The town, which has three fire trucks, tries to replace one every 10 years. Engine 3, which was purchased nearly 30 years ago, is the oldest.

“It still works but not reliably enough and not for much longer,” Steenson said.

Supply chain and manufacturing issues drove up the cost of the truck by about $200,000 compared to the price before the pandemic. It was expected the new truck wouldn’t arrive in town for another 18 months to two years even with voter approval Friday. Using $360,000 in reserve funds, the payments on the remaining $490,000 would be spread out over 10 years.

“I’ve never experienced a fire at my home, but I’ve seen one at my neighbor’s home,” said Southwest Road resident Emily Preston, who said firefighters put of the blaze in subzero temperatures. “I want them to have the right equipment to be safe.”

The purchase of the truck passed by ballot vote – 178 to 21, moderator Jim Miller announced a little after 9 p.m. once a full hour had elapsed to give everyone a chance to cast a ballot.

The $3.2 million budget carried a 4% increase over the current budget, which was satisfactory to residents who asked few questions about the spending plan.

“Many other municipalities, including some of our neighbors, are facing double-digit budget increases,” said Steenson, who did not run for re-election and will be replaced on the board by Scott Doherty, the assistant fire chief, who won the seat during Tuesday’s election. “We feel 4% is about as tight as we can get.”

A decision to spend $12,000 to hire an education consultant to continue to study the possibility of Canterbury withdrawing from the Shaker Road Regional School District drew a line of speakers to the microphone. The intricacies of withdrawing from the school district proved too complex for members of the volunteer withdrawal committee, who realized professional expertise was needed.

“We’re asking to continue the study with professional support,” said withdrawal committee member Rue Toland who has three school-aged children. “We know other options are out there. We also need to know whether and how those decisions can be made in a legal and fiscally responsible manner.”

Several speakers said they were in favor of continuing the study but ultimately were opposed to withdrawing from the district. The article passed.

At the end of the night, voters were asked to renew the $500 tax credit for veterans, a housekeeping item that was on the warrant of every town in the state after a change to the statute by the legislature.

Wyman returned to the microphone to speak against the credit. She cited the town’s history of pacifism, including the Shakers, who chose not to fight in the country’s civil war. Veterans are not the only ones who risk their lives in the face of danger. Firefighters are just as deserving, she said.

“These articles are dismissive of those of us who have different viewpoints,” she said.

Resident Ruth Heath agreed, but disagreed.

“I’m opposed to war, but I’m not opposed to the warrior,” she said. “It’s in honor of our veterans, not in honor or support of war.”

At the start of the meeting, Miller invited all veterans to stand, who were showered with applause as a sign of respect. Wyman’s comments also received applause at the very end of the night.

Both articles asking to renew the tax credit for veterans passed by a show of “yes” voting cards, which were green in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.

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