HANSON – The Select Board, on Tuesday, Sept. 27 approved closure of the public comment period and submission of the town’s energy aggregation plan to the state Department of Public Utilities for final approval.
That process is expected to take at least a year, with an eye toward an official launch by next winter, according to consultant Patrick Roche of Good Energy.
“Only after we’re approved by DPU would we be allowed to go out to bid for electricity,” he said. “Once we have done that, then we would do a big education and outreach period before the program starts, so people will know they can choose not to participate [if that is what] they want.”
Roche stressed that the aggregation does not become the town’s electric company. The only portion of a customer’s electricity bill the plan can change is the electricity generation costs.
The aggregate would buy electricity on behalf of Hanson residents as a group, with those who prefer other plans given the right to opt out.
“A lot of towns have been doing this and, in the process of doing it, we mitigate the risk,” said Energy Committee Vice Chair James Armstrong, noting that utility companies buy energy every four to six months in that way, depending on the tariff they are under. “They buy it at the same time every year. We have a little more flexibility in how we do ours — that’s why we have a consultant.”
The vote followed a public hearing with the board, which closed out a public comment period on the plan, with Roche, who attended remotely. The firm helps the town know when to buy energy, what to look at and whether they should shorten or lengthen purchase contracts — currently done by the year — if it makes sense in the market to do so.
“We can play the market, whereas the utilities cannot,” Armstrong said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about trying to save money for the citizens of Hanson, and it’s also about giving options to the citizens of Hanson to buy more green power.”
He explained this was the second hearing conducted on the proposed energy aggregate plan for Hanson.
“We actually submitted [it] to the DPU,” Armstrong said. “They made some modifications and sent it back. We had to modify our plan, that’s why we needed to have another hearing.”
The current public comment period on the DPU’s revisions had been open since Aug. 10. The proposal was approved at Town Meeting last year, Armstrong reminded the board, so it is not something new.
Only two comments had been received, both asking if the program was live yet and how they could sign on.
“Ironically, National Grid has actually announced a 40-percent increase in our electric bills, starting next month,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is mitigate that risk, and that was always our intention.”
Roche said that increase is already “baked in,” but the aggregation could help protect the town from similar price spikes in the future.
With no public comment at Tuesday’s meeting, Select Board members made their comments and/or asked questions.
“I’m very new to all this,” Select Board member Ann Rein said, asking if an incident similar to last winter’s electrical grid failure in Texas could happen here.
“I suppose it’s possible that could happen here,” Roche said. “[But] your program would not change, whether or not that could happen.”
He explained the Texas crisis was rooted in the failure to adequately assess how much transmission on the grid was possible on the part of the state’s regional grid operator as well as regulatory shortcomings.
Armstrong added that, despite growth in use over the last 10 years, because of energy efficiency programs, the amount of electricity used has not changed. There are no more coal-fueled energy plants left in New England, he said, noting those that are left, are fueled by natural gas. The state is also encouraging battery storage to more easily handle demand spikes.
The state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard requires utilities to purchase a certain percentage of green energy. Hanson is now at about 25 percent and is seeing that ratio go up by 2 percent every year, according to Armstrong.
“We’re trying to buy 5-percent more than we’re required to,” he said. “That’s it — just a little bit more to be a little bit greener as we do things, and at the same time, save ourselves some green, too.”
Select Board member Ed Heal, while he likes the program, expressed skepticism at the effectiveness of renewable energy sources and was concerned that people had to request to opt out.
“I don’t like forcing people into something where they need to opt out,” he said. “I would rather it be you opt into this program.”
Armstrong said that residents who already have such a third-party source will not automatically be added to the aggregation. But urged vigilance. He said he has a third-party energy source at home already, but wasn’t following it and there was a price spike.
“I’m an energy engineer … but I wasn’t watching myself,” he said. “What this does, is allow someone else to watch out for you on that issue.”
Heal’s objections stem from a lack of choice, he said, and expressed concern that the program would not prevent electricity costs to go through the roof.
“Eventually, we’re not going to have a choice, it’s going to be whatever these people say we’re going to have,” he said. “It’s going to be green, and that’s it — for better or worse.”
Roche said the aggregation will also govern its purchase of renewable energy in a way to be more cost-effective than National Grid.
Among other business, the Select Board conducted its final review of warrant articles ahead of the Monday, Oct. 3 special Town Meeting.
The Finance Committee, which met at the same time as the Select Board on Tuesday, Sept. 13, had already expressed concern to that their final recommendations would not be ready until the Tuesday, Sept. 27 meeting.
By Tuesday’s meeting the Finance Committee had recommended all articles except those with salary implications out of sustainability concerns.
The Capital Improvement Committee Chair Frank Milisi, Vice Chair Kurt Travis II and members Ken Sweezey and Pat Wheeler met with the Select Board, of which two members also serve on the Capital Committee – Ed Heal and Joe Weeks on Sept. 13.
Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said at that meeting that she has spoken with both Fire Chief Jerome Thompson Jr., and Library Director Karen Stolfer, both of whom indicated their capital request articles presented for the October special Town Meeting Warrant “were not dire” and they were not concerned if the articles were deferred to the May 2023 annual Town Meeting.
The articles dealt with a Fire Station feasibility study and an HVAC study for the library.
“There were also some concerns about adding positions,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said, noting that the part-time position for the Select Board office was, indeed necessary.
“I guess the biggest question is how much money are they willing to let us spend on capital expenses?” Milisi asked, noting that longer waits for some projects would translate to higher costs.