The Bulletin Board

Community power faces another delay

By: - July 5, 2022 1:05 pm
A worker installs solar panels

Community power would allow municipalities to choose renewable energy. (Sirisak Boakaew | Getty Images)

The Public Utilities Commission was scheduled to propose long-awaited rules for community power Tuesday. Instead, it announced that the rules would not be released until July 27, further delaying the start of community power, a new initiative in which cities and towns buy their own energy.

Amid skyrocketing energy costs, proponents of community power, including the state’s consumer advocate, say the approach could help provide a cheaper option for ratepayers, whose bills are set to increase by around 50 percent in August. It would also allow municipalities to choose renewable energy.

But even towns and cities that have already secured local approval for their plans cannot move forward without approval from the utilities commission. The commission has rejected all plans that have come before it, indicating they will be approved only after rules are finalized.

An email from the commissioner’s office on Tuesday morning said the meeting scheduled for that day was postponed “due to a scheduling conflict.”

Consumer Advocate Don Kreis expressed incredulity in a tweet Tuesday. “If you buy the explanation, then you too can own an East River crossing designed by John Roebling (1806-1869),” he wrote, referring to a con involving the sale of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Proponents of community power have expressed frustration at ongoing delays in the regulatory process, preventing communities from moving forward.

“The delay is extremely unfortunate, particularly because communities are in a position to provide rate relief through community power programs and that rate relief has been delayed by the apparent dysfunction of the state’s Public Utility Commission,” said Henry Herndon, an energy consultant affiliated with the Community Power Coalition, a nonprofit that helps cities and towns pursue community power.  

This isn’t the first delay. Community power plans were authorized in 2019 but put on hold when a bill was introduced in 2020 that would have made significant changes to it.  

“The state has had 2.5 years,” Herndon said. “There’s no reason they should continue to delay the process.”

Once the rules are published, they will need additional approval from the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules. Communities can then submit their plans to the commission, which will have 60 days to review them. Community power advocates previously estimated that the programs could be underway by spring 2023. That timeline will be pushed back given the PUC’s delay.

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee reported on energy and environment for New Hampshire Bulletin. She also previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.