First draft of Concord’s renewable energy plan focuses big on efficiency, electricity

Monitor staff
Published: 2/2/2019 11:07:45 PM

In the not-too-distant future, all of Concord’s municipal energy may be generated by local energy sources, your neighbor’s house could be built with rooftop solar in mind, and your public transportation could all be electric.

At least, that’s the world the Concord Energy and Environment Committee envisions in its first draft of a strategic plan to have Concord get all of its energy from renewable sources by 2050. The plan was released last week, and it’s ambitious: 27 pages covering everything from energy efficiency and electricity, transportation and thermal energy.

The committee’s July deadline to have a full plan may seem far away in the middle of winter, but there is plenty of work to be done. The first stakeholder meeting was held recently, and two more sessions are planned before a final iteration comes before City Council.

Here’s some of the big takeaways, as well as feedback from some of the stakeholders:

Energy efficiency

They say the cheapest unit of energy is the one you don’t use. That’s the guiding principle behind the plans for energy efficiency in the Capital City, even though the nonbinding resolution doesn’t specifically call for such measures.

As a whole, Concord consumes 390 million kilowatt hours of energy each year, according to the committee. To bring that figure down, the plan calls for the city and its community to reduce consumption by encouraging weatherization and finding ways to incentivize it (like rebates or community programs).

It also encourages the city to prioritize energy conservation efforts, like switching the streetlights to LED and having all city buildings to be certified under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

That gave Concord City Manager Tom Aspell pause; LEED certification can be expensive, and if the plan was going to demand the city pursue certification, he said at the meeting he couldn’t support it.

Instead, he recommended the city’s buildings meet LEED standards, but not pursue LEED certification.

Electricity 

According to the plan, renewable electricity is one of the more critical aspects of achieving the city’s goal for two reasons.

One, it’s the most achievable of the three energy sector goals, thanks to falling solar prices. Two, it’s the gateway to more renewable transportation and thermal energy sources, because those goals also rely in part on renewable electricity.

It’s also the closest deadline associated with the resolution, which calls for all of the city’s electricity to be renewable by 2030.

The plan calls for as much renewable electricity to be generated within Concord’s borders as possible, which will result in more jobs, tax base and energy security (i.e., the closer a source of energy, the less likely the supply will be interrupted).

To do that would require an extensive amount of steps, primarily focusing on making solar usage more widespread in the city by streamlining the permit process, supporting net metering and community solar projects, and facilitating microgrids – self-sufficient grids with their own storage that can be connected to the grid for backup or to deliver excess power.

The Rev. Michael Leunchtenberger, senior minister for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Concord, supported the idea of making the solar process easier. His church’s quest to put solar panels on its property in 2017 highlighted some of the difficulties a person can have when navigating the city’s zoning codes.

Transportation

Changing how Concord gets around is another big part of the plan, with a big focus on making the city more accessible to electric vehicles.

The plan calls for facilitating more electric vehicle infrastructure like charging ports through code and incentives; converting the city’s vehicle fleet over to clean transportation, including possibly switching all of the Concord Area Transit buses to electric; and supporting ways to make the city more bikeable and walkable.

Larry Haynes, president and CEO of the Grappone Auto group, said he would like to see the conversation also include hybrid vehicles, saying a lot of people are choosing to explore vehicles that use some gas, some electric to cover their daily commutes.

It could be a while before more electric vehicles appear in New Hampshire, he said. The Granite State hasn’t signed onto the Zero-Emmission Vehicle (ZEV) program, a coordinated action plan to reduce air pollution by heavily incentivizing battery-electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, according to the Multi-State ZEV Task Force website. 

That means electric vehicles aren’t being distributed to the state, Haynes said; the only way for a dealer to get their hands on them is to swap with a dealer in another state.

Thermal energy

A big point about the city’s thermal goals: The committee doesn’t expect the city to convert its municipal buildings that were forced to switch to natural gas after Concord Steam closed nearly two years ago to renewable resources.

Other than that, there isn’t too much on the subject in the plan. The committee recommends exploring biogas recovery projects at the Hall Street wastewater treatment plan, promoting weatherizing and efficiency, and facilitating access to energy audits and replacing old heating systems with renewable sources.

What’s next

The next version of the plan is due a week before the next stakeholder meeting, which is scheduled to take place sometime in March.

To see the drafted plan online, visit view.publitas.com/newspapers-of-new-england/cm-draft-outline-for-ceec-strategic-plan/.

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

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