ELECTRIC POWER TO THE PEOPLE


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In October, New Hampshire became the latest state to pass a law allowing counties and towns to generate and distribute electricity, following in the steps of Washington, Vermont, and California, among others.
This growing “community power” movement pools several motivations. For some, grid power from a centralized utility is too expensive, with rates that increase too often and by too much.
Others want more power from green sources. States often mandate a certain percentage of commercial electricity be generated from renewable sources; community power laws enable local entities to set mandates that are higher.
The city of Lebanon, New Hampshire, is an example of what these laws make possible. In 2020, Lebanon will launch Lebanon Community Power, a municipal entity allowing people to buy their electricity through the city at a price lower, officials hope, than that offered by commercial generators.
The town can solicit and compare bids from suppliers, meet demand with electricity generated by its own solar panels or methane from the city dump, or buy power from solar installations owned by residents.
The city of Seattle, with several community organizations, put together Community Power Works, an initiative that helps homeowners finance energy upgrades that lower their bills by as much as half while cutting carbon pollution from generation. Residents can pay for the upgrades through their conventional electric bill.
The Redwood Coast Energy Authority in Humboldt County, California, includes several cities and a water district office as well as the county. The agency maintains a staff of energy advisors who give free counsel to businesses and homeowners and hands out free “energy efficiency kits” that include such goodies as power strips, light bulbs, and hot-water saving devices.
TRENDPOST: Decentralized electric generation is taking a place in the energy economy, but not every home or business can produce its own power. Mid-level entities such as towns or customer-owned co-ops are needed to combine buying power with technical and management expertise to meet local or regional area needs while offering greater flexibility, responsiveness, and innovation than conventional utilities.
As a result, the community power movement will grow to a co-equal status with conventional utilities by 2030.

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