Canterbury may join ‘community power’ towns that buy their own electricity

Monitor staff
Published: 1/22/2023 11:00:11 AM

The town of Canterbury hopes to join dozens of others in New Hampshire that will be buying their own electricity, showing that size is no obstacle for what seems a dauntingly complex move.

“It was not hard to find a group of eight volunteers that were very interested in the problem, willing to work hard and understand the basics of it, and who had the appetite to develop an electric aggregation plan,” said Howard Moffet, a former state representative and head of the Canterbury Community Power Committee.

After all, Moffet pointed out, the town of Wilmot – which has 1,400 people, about half as many as Canterbury – is also a member of the New Hampshire Community Power Coalition, a group of towns that want to make a similar change. Twenty-six towns and one county are members of that coalition including Warner, Webster and Pembroke.

The coalition will help the towns maneuver their way through the wholesale power market. Another dozen New Hampshire towns have selected other programs to develop what is known as community power: Good Energy, which administers programs in other parts of the U.S., and Standard Power, which administers energy purchasing for municipalities.

Community power is a concept made possible by a state law passed in 2019 that expands who can do bulk purchases of electricity on the open market. Large users such as manufacturers have long been able to buy electricity wholesale rather than getting it from their local power utility (or utilities: Canterbury has three of them), but this option has not been available to residents.

Under community power, it will be.

By aggregating demand, communities will be able to buy electricity from producers more cheaply than the default rate charged by utilities and potentially focused in other ways, such as emphasizing green power, and then make it available to residents.

The 2019 law put it this way: “The general court finds that aggregation may provide small customers with similar opportunities to those available to larger customers in obtaining lower electric costs, reliable service, and secure energy supplies.”

If Canterbury selectmen agree with the proposal, voters at town meeting in March will be asked whether they want the town to adopt community power. The Public Utilities Commission will then have to approve the details before it can go into action.

If all that happens, town residents will be able to buy power through the program or they can stay with their utility. Billing and repairs will still be handled by each home’s utility. No taxpayer funds will be involved, and Canterbury can withdraw from the program if it chooses to do so.

The Public Utilities Commission has approved community power plans for a dozen towns, some or all of which are expected to go into operation this year.

Other states already have community power programs, or equivalent bulk-purchase options, in place. They are part of changes sweeping through the once-staid electricity system, caused by the arrival of technologies like solar power and batteries which turn electricity consumers into producers,

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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