Concord City Council delays action on renewable energy goal

  • Members of the audience listen during a Concord City Council public hearing on whether Concord should adopt a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 on May 14, 2018. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/15/2018 12:06:39 AM

It was standing room only Monday night as the Concord City Council debated whether to adopt a resolution to move Concord toward relying completely on renewable energy sources.

However, supporters of the Concord for 100% Renewable Energy campaign will have to wait another month to learn its fate after the council voted to refer the proposal to the Fiscal Policy Advisory Committee for further study.

The decision was not a surprise to Ward 5 Councilor and Energy and Environment Advisory Committee member Rob Werner, who said he had heard concerns from the mayor and other council members prior to the vote.

He wasn’t discouraged, though.

“I think the widespread support for this goal was evident tonight and not missed by my fellow councilors,” he said.

The goal of the resolution is to have Concord work toward getting all of its electricity from renewable resources by 2030 and that all transportation and thermal energy will be renewably sourced by 2050. It’s meant to be aspirational, Energy and Environment Committee member Chuck Willing said.

But some had concerns. Tim Sink, president of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce, said the organization believed the goal was commendable but was concerned about the “aggressive” timetable and the use of the term “policy.”

“It kind of holds your feet to the fire,” he said. “It’s very strongly worded.”

That concern was also shared by the city’s Conservation Committee, who said in a letter that adopting something as “policy” before knowing how the Concord would adopt the goal was “putting the cart before the horse.”

Sink also said adopting the goal could make the city seem uncompetitive to some businesses that have a high energy usage.

But Councilors Linda Kenison and Allan Herschlag seemed confused by the concern, noting the resolution doesn’t bind the city to anything and any costs related to the goal would have to be approved by the city first.

Mayor Jim Bouley supported the tabling, saying it was important to build consensus in the community before adopting such a goal.

He also said the current wording of the resolution, which prioritizes energy derived from wind, solar, geothermal, tidal technology sources, low-impact, small hydro and some forms of biomass and “specifically excludes energy derived from fossil fuels, nuclear, incineration of municipal and medical waste, and future large-scale hydroelectric development,” has made some Penacook residents – and it’s largest taxpayer, waste incinerator Wheelabrator – nervous.

“Their interpretation is this is trying to shut them down,” he said.

But Willing said the resolution does not intend that companies like Wheelabrator wouldn’t exist, but would not be invested in going forward.

Concord has recently faced challenging discussions on renewable energy. The city’s zoning board ultimately rejected a proposal to bring a 54-acre solar farm to West Portsmouth Street because the panels exceeded the amount of “impervious service” allowed in a Residential Open Space-zoned district.

If the resolution was adopted, city administrators would be directed to work toward this goal in conjunction with the Concord Energy and Environment Committee, and a Stakeholder Committee, along with state and federal government.

At least three communities in New Hampshire have adopted a similar goal. Hanover first adopted the goal a year ago, and Plainfield and Cornish both voted to adopt the measure on March 17. More than 60 municipalities in the country have adopted the goal, according to the Sierra Club.

The Fiscal Policy Advisory Committee typically meets the third Monday of the month.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)

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