Voices of 100%: Hanover Residents Raise Hands for Renewable Energy — Episode 125 of Local Energy Rules

Date: 10 Mar 2021 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Hosting an in-person community gathering may be unthinkable these days, but that is exactly how Hanover, N.H. endorsed its 100 percent renewable energy goal back in 2017: a show of hands in the high school gymnasium.

For this episode of our Voices of 100% series of the Local Energy Rules Podcast, host John Farrell speaks with Hanover, N.H. Sustainability Director April Salas. They discuss the importance of coalition building, how to take action in a small town, and slowing down to achieve goals the right way.

Listen to the full episode and explore more resources below — including a transcript and summary of the conversation.

April Salas: This effort to establish a value system that drove the work and how we would make decisions was probably the best two weeks we spent because it’s guided every decision since then. And it’s things like, is it a hundred percent green or not? Are you aiming for efficiency? Are you thinking about how the target forms, but also, you know, how you get there is as important as getting there in and of itself. Meaning do you bring the whole community along and do you have an opportunity to pause and make sure you bring in collaboration and support for communities around you?
John Farrell: The urgency of climate change and the opportunity for local economic benefits has motivated over 150 US communities to adopt a 100% renewable energy pledge. In this episode, we explore pursuit of this goal at the small scale in Hanover, New Hampshire, population 11,000. I spoke with April Salas, Sustainability Director of the town of Hanover in January, 2021 about the community’s development of and pursuit of its 100% renewable energy goal. I’m John Farrell, director of the Energy Democracy initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and this is a special Voices of 100% episode of Local Energy Rules, a bi-weekly podcast sharing powerful stories about local, renewable energy. April, welcome to Local Energy Rules.
April Salas: Thank you so much, John. It’s really great to be here.
John Farrell: Normally I ask folks who are in this role about their path into renewable energy, but I feel like that question was rather simplistic having read your bio, you direct the river center for energy at Dartmouth school of business. You’ve run energy policy initiatives at the White House and the Department of Energy. So I thought you could certainly talk about, kind of what got you motivated to get involved in clean energy, but I’m kind of curious, was it harder to move things through the federal government or to get a hundred percent renewable energy goal through a town council in New Hampshire and what motivated you to get involved at the local level after having such work at the federal level?
April Salas: Yeah, that’s a great question. Actually, it always makes me chuckle because I actually get that quite a bit, you know, especially in the academic space – is it harder? Is it harder in academics, in higher ed or, or the federal government, who has more bureaucracy? And I guess, you know, I I’d have to say the federal government wins. It’s been great. I am so fortunate to live and work in a town that is really progressive, you know, and I, and I can’t even take full credit for all the hard work that’s been done. I moved here in 2016 and I joined a Sustainable Hanover committee full of incredible volunteers who had been pursuing and pushing forward really ambitious, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and other sorts of goals for a number of years prior to my arrival. And so it was really this, this amazing group of men and women, uh, community members who, who comprised this, this committee and with the leadership of our town manager, our public works director, our planning and zoning director. So it was really a really seamless thing to step into and all their work laid the foundation. So I think it’s been quite easy getting things through our town process. And I think that’s really because we have a secret power, which is by virtue of our size. We’re able to look other people in the eye have conversations around the table and really talk through the issues. And so getting things pushed through has actually been surprisingly easy and enjoyable.
John Farrell: That was great to hear. And I’m hoping that there’ll be kind of more as we talk about how, uh, you know, being small and being well connected and being able to have those face conversations, at least pre pandemic anyway, has helped in terms of some of the implementation or the ideas for moving forward. I want to talk a little bit about the goal itself. So it’s a hundred percent renewable electricity community-wide by 2030, pretty ambitious here because we’re now in 2021. So, or down until less than a decade, I’m curious, is there more to the goal than that? Are there other pieces of it like around transportation and housing energy use, for example, and then what options does the town have to reach that goal? You know, does it own an electric utility, for example, as we’ve seen, like in Burlington, Vermont?
April Salas: Those are all great questions. And I actually didn’t even talk about your, your other question about what motivates you to get involved at the local level after so much work at the national level. And it’s really, it’s honing in on this, this question. You’ve just asked about thinking about setting an ambitious target. And I must say some cities take the approach of having a fully baked plan when they establish their target. We did not take that approach. We set an ambitious target, and then we decided, okay, how do we, how do we really back into achieving this? Does this feel achievable? And that’s the real motivation is, is taking that sort of broad sweeping view of opportunities across the country, looking at it from the federal level, and then really sinking your teeth into the action, the hard work, implementing these, these ideas, these really ambitious goals.

So for us, we took a really progressive view on what this means for Hanover. We elected to adopt the community-wide view, which is actually not, not that common. A lot of, a lot of cities are adopting this for their municipal facilities or first, you know, certain segments of, of their communities. And we really wanted to make sure we brought the whole community along in addition to, uh, renewable electricity. And, and when I, the way that we define that is actually the electrons that are going into the system. So we are really intent on generating renewable power, having those green electrons being delivered to residents and business owners and municipal operations in the town of Hanover. In addition to that, we adopted a 2050 goal for thermal, so building energy, as well as transportation. So we have our electricity goals well underway. We’re also keeping an eye on opportunities to take advantage of really laying foundations. Some of the frameworks that we had to do to get our electricity goals underway so that we can take advantage of, of opportunities as they come along for transportation. Mainly thinking about things like EV charging infrastructure or retrofitting our County facilities with cold climate heat pumps, maybe reducing the amount of fuel oil or propane that we’re using to heat our buildings. So that’s been really exciting, but coming back to your first question around sort of what that looks like, no, we don’t, we don’t own an electric utility. So when we step back and think about how in the world we’re going to achieve this, because we’re talking about, you know, involving our small businesses, involving our big institutions and covering municipal operations and encouraging residents to also come along with us, you know, it’s going to take an all of the above portfolio approach.

John Farrell: You mentioned that one of the things that was kind of motivating was to set this ambitious goal without having all of the pieces in place. Is that part of what you will do is to kind of lay out a plan? I would, for example, we did an interview with folks from St. The city of St. Louis, and they were kind of in the final stages of their sort of pathways plan. So they had committed to their goal, and then they were looking at, okay, well, what are some of the different ways that we can get there? So is there a formal plan in the works? Is, are there certain people that are responsible for that and what progress has been made so far and, you know, wanting to acknowledge that in many cases, folks are already sort of charging ahead even as they’re laying plans.
April Salas: Absolutely. And we are certainly no stranger to that approach. Our town manager is very proactive. She likes to get things done, and that has been really helpful as a sustainability director. It’s really my job to be the glue that ties the official work that the town’s doing in support of the town manager and those other directors that I mentioned in public works and zoning, to what happening in our Sustainable Hanover committee and our energy subcommittee, and then to draw some connectivity to the large or large users. So our businesses and institutions that are already procuring energy, you know, the more sophisticated folks there may be already procuring energy in third party markets and making different decisions. And we want to make sure we can align with them in terms of our values and, and hopefully get them on board to, to come along with us on this journey.

So I’d say, you know, overall the plan has been a little bit of an, all of the above approach, a formal written plan yes in the form of PowerPoint slides. So not a traditional plan that you might expect, that written prose in chapters and chapters long. Our plan really involves the municipal operations for taking care of itself. We unleashed our Sustainable Hanover on the residential side and small commercial and then a lot of my job is really focused around institutional large commercial. And then again, supporting that municipal transition. And so, so far, in addition to changing things like our zoning laws and regulations to allow for residential solar, exempting solar from our tax assessments so, so residents wouldn’t fear their property tax bills going up. We also completed a foresight study on municipal plots of land that identified opportunities for community solar feature, community solar. So really, before the end of 2020, actually, literally I got to flip the switch on a 702 kilowatt system for municipal load, which I literally just finished totaling our, our end of year numbers. And we went from a total installed capacity of about 1600 kilowatts to about 4,000. And we’re expected to jump to 5,000 by the end of 2021. So I’d say it’s been all hands on deck and really looking at this, this portfolio approach, which will include a lot of behind the meter solar. We are really encouraging our, our residents to Solarize as, as much as they can. Equity is obviously very, very important to us. And this year has been no different from any other community. We have been looking really hard at our program designs specifically at how we really didn’t realize our programs were oriented towards homeowners on maybe we were leaving out renters or folks who were here for less than, you know, for, for whatever reason were, were coming and going, and they didn’t necessarily have access to solar.

So we just closed on our first community solar project where residents could buy fractional ownership of a community solar array. And they, we have residents from apartment buildings, renters. It’s a real, it’s a really nice mix of people, people who own their homes, but couldn’t Solarize for whatever reason, because too much shade or the roofs didn’t support it. So that was a really big win for us. So again, solarize, solarize, solarize. I think those, those kinds of neighborhood projects are also really helpful in getting you, knowing your neighbors, understanding the motivations within the community, and then really supporting our small commercial. We have had a really good partnership with Liberty utilities and have housed a lighting efficiency expert in our public works department so that he could go around and really as much as, as, as they were willing to take advantage of some of these opportunities could access some of those energy efficiency funds. And so that’s been a real help as well.

And then really lastly is, is how we look at opportunities to leverage our convening power between the town of Hanover, which also buys in the wholesale markets, which is slightly confusing and most towns don’t, but we can access, you know, lower cost power through wholesale, through the wholesale markets. And we have looked at procuring larger wind projects or larger solar project with maybe Dartmouth College or another big commercial user, aggregating demand, kind of like you see corporations doing, getting a bunch of their friends together and buying all are part of a renewable system. So that’s definitely in the pocket. And then lastly, we’ve had some legislative change that has recently allowed communities to adopt community power and default their residents into the program. And so they have to opt out if they don’t want to be a part of the program. So we have very, very recently, I don’t even think the ink is dry, just signed our joint powers agreement, and we’ll be forming with a collection of other towns, Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire, which means then we will be defaulting all of our residents into this community power programs. We’re very, very excited about it.

John Farrell: We’re going to take a short break. When we come back, I ask about the development of Hanover’s 100% renewable energy goal, the role of equity in its implementation, and advice that April has for other small communities pursuing ambitious, renewable energy goals. You’re listening to a Local Energy Rules Voices of 100% interview with April Salas, Sustainability Director of the town of Hanover, New Hampshire, about the community’s 100% renewable energy goal.

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John Farrell: That’s great. I actually meant to ask you about that specifically, since we first ran across one another at that radically rural conference talking exactly about community choice energy. So it’s great to hear that that’s part of the strategy that you’ve already thinking about and already moving forward in Hanover. I was hoping to take a step back for a minute and just ask you about the, how the goal was developed. You talked about how coming into Hanover, there was already this really well-organized sustainability committee that was working on these issues. You’ve had a lot of support from folks in the city. Was there a sort of a broader community organizing effort? Who was involved in kind of envisioning the goal and getting the town to adopt it?
April Salas: We had the fortunate opportunity to work with Sierra club, Upper Valley chapter, and a few other organizations who really helped us harness the groundswell, I think, campaign that ultimately formed our neighborhood action group. And so we had, again, kind of a subset of the Sustainable Hanover efforts, broadly supporting Sierra Club and their effort nationwide, really to, to encourage communities to adopt the R 100 targets, so ready for 100 targets. And so we were on that list and ultimately became the first city, the first town in the state of New Hampshire. Now I think we’re up to four or five, which we’re really excited about. And there’s another handful that are, you know, that have equally aggressive, deep decarbonization goals. And we’re proud of them as well. We, we really feel like that organizing framework was really helpful in us connecting with our community members across Hanover. And it gave us an opportunity to, to, you know, in a pre COVID environment, be inside their homes, ask them questions. What were they excited about? What scared them? And to really get a sense of where they felt like they stood on climate change, on the importance of renewable energy, the importance of feeling like they could contribute to the overall goals.

And so I think that ultimately led to the success that we saw in 2017 at town meeting, when, you know, in a town meeting form of government, we all gather in the high school gymnasium and literally raise our hands in yay or nay for, for the adoption and endorsement of this goal. And that’s what happened. It was a really powerful moment. I was there. I brought my kids. It was just a really awesome opportunity to see… I don’t even know how to describe it. It was kind of unfolding before your eyes and in the feeling of raising your hand and something passing, you really feel a part of the movement. And I think we felt that ever since, as we’ve been trying to drive towards implementation.

John Farrell: That’s a great story. And just, I love sort of the traditional New England town meeting aspect of that. There’s so many other communities where maybe there’s a city council vote, maybe it’s a local ballot initiative, but just that idea of folks gathering, having already had lots of conversations in the community and then coming together to pass it is a great part of that story.
April Salas: Absolutely. And then the other thing is when we got our, you know, of course we have the moment now, what do we do? But we all huddled again in a little conference room in one of our public libraries and really got to work on trying to figure out what values were going to underpin our work. So how would we make a determination as we got started in all this, what we wouldn’t  do, we knew there’d be infinite possibilities for how to get to a hundred. Certain technologies would cost more, cost less, but how do we think about an organizing framework? And that’s where this effort to establish a value system that drove the work and how we would make decisions was probably the best two weeks we spent, because it’s guided every decision since then. And it’s things like, is it a hundred percent green or not? Are you aiming for efficiency? Are you thinking about how the target forms, but also, you know, how you get there is as important as getting there in and of itself. Meaning do you bring the whole community along and do you have an opportunity to pause and make sure you bake in collaboration and support for communities around you so that you can bring the broader network along. And we want it to support living wage jobs, create business opportunities. So all of these were really important, foundational guidelines and values that underpin the work that we’ve been doing for the last three, four years.
John Farrell: I’m so glad that you are talking about the, sort of the values behind this. We’ve seen historically energy development, you know, with fossil fuels has tended to disproportionately put pollution, burdens, energy burdens on low income folks and communities of color. I was curious if in the planning around those values or in the pledge itself, if the renewable energy pledge talks about an approach to equity as, as part of that 100% goal.
April Salas: Yeah. And the way that we said the way that we characterize it was a resilient and healthy community powered by affordable and clean, renewable energy. And so equity was always at the center of it, but I think like many people in many communities, we pause, 2020 gave us pause. We stopped, we reflected, we internally, we brought in resources and experts from Dartmouth College, from Accra, you know, national experts to help inform our view on equity and inclusion and environmental justice. And we’re still learning. I’m telling you, I mean, and it’s been incredibly powerful for the committee to do this together. So we have already formed a diversity and equity committee and it has guiding back to like procurement back to program design.

We were, we had these hunches that things were happening, like, gosh, at each of our annual forums, we keep seeing the same 300 people. How do we reach more people? How do we reach people that we aren’t already reaching? So we had some hypotheses in our head that we were observing in the earlier days. And I think we really turned the dial up in this last year to say, no, no, this is not only a priority, but it’s an imperative. And we can’t get there… We’re willing to slow down a little bit so that we can bring everyone along. And that’s how we’re thinking about going forward is how do we create a construct that brings everyone along and that we even redefine what makes, what, how we define community member. And that might include someone who works here during the day, but doesn’t live here at night that might include, you know, college students who are here for four years or two years, it’s renters, there’s, there’s all kinds of walks of life. And we want to encourage everyone to feel like they have a place in this, in this journey, because that’s how we’ll be successful in achieving a hundred percent by 2030.

John Farrell: As a member of the college yourself, but also in a community that has a prestigious local college, are there advantages in both the implementation and having that institution in Hanover?
April Salas: Yeah, it’s a fantastic question. And I would say, of course we have a world-class research institute, engineering capabilities. There’s an entrepreneurial ecosystem. You know, world-class faculty, the student body is incredible, the staff with deep, deep expertise. So it makes our committees really rich. It makes the community really eager for participation in action. And it also means when we have questions, we have a really amazing resource to tap into to help point us in the right direction. And then it says much as a question that you just asked around diversity and then being able to bring in Dr. Matt Delmont to help us understand sort of historical underpinnings of environmental justice, you know, thinking about marketing and our consumers in a way that we feel like embodies our values and, and, and then leveraging professor Kevin Keller to help us think through – he’s a, he’s a, a nationally recognized branding expert. So it’s just been really nice to be able to engage the college equally. The students are, are very eager to give back and to be a part of the broader community outside of the college itself. And they, they love their, they’re getting to engage in, in local politics and not politics per se, but implementation of, of something that was adopted locally. And then actually being able to see it to fruition and drive by the solar system that maybe they did a technical study to help support the analysis on. I mean, that’s a really engaging thing for a young person to experience and then take with them out into the real world. Um, you know, wherever they may go after their time here as an experience and a reminder to be thoughtful in giving in the community that you live in, because it is the richness of the environment. So we’ve really, really benefited.

And then on the third front is really the partnership around climate and clean energy has really flourished between the town and the college. So in, in 2017, we adopted our targets and then 2017 president Phil Hanlon also endorsed our green futures report for Dartmouth College. Also resetting the college’s intentions and purpose around, uh, climate and clean energy. So those two things happened within about a month of each other. And I’m not going to say we weren’t very nervous that one or the other wouldn’t pass, but we’re, we’re really fortunate. We don’t have to think about that. It’s laid the framework and foundation for a much richer partnership.

John Farrell: April, I just want to say how much I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me about your work and the work in Hanover to advance renewable energy. Is there any advice that you could offer to other small communities that are trying to both set and achieve ambitious, renewable energy and climate goals?
April Salas: I would say keep at it, engage your, your community members. There’s a lot that you can do at your own home or within your own, on your own street or within your own neighborhood. If you don’t have an energy committee, think about forming one. One thing that we’ve been really blessed by is the organization Urban Sustainability Directors Network. So if you have, if you live in a town that has access to at least some partial funds versus sustainability director, this USD network has been really amazing for us as we turn towards implementation as a network to see what everybody else is doing across the country. And they have a pricing structure that is just wonderful for small communities like ours, to be able to afford to be a part of and the membership. And so I’d say that’s been just an amazing resource for us as we’ve, as we’ve grown, but don’t be afraid to just ask the questions and try to build that local coalition on your own and otherwise reach out. We’d love to hear from you.
John Farrell: April, thank you again for joining me to talk about the work in Hanover. I’m excited to share it with others and best of luck as you continue to pursue this ambitious, renewable energy goal.
April Salas: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me, John.
John Farrell: Thank you so much for listening to this Voices of 100% episode of Local Energy Rules with April Salas, Sustainability Director of the town of Hanover, New Hampshire, about the community’s 100% renewable energy goal. On the show page, look for links to several documents and stories about the town’s goals, including the recent powering up of a new solar array for municipal needs. On our website, you can also find our community power map that shows every community with a 100% community-wide renewable energy goal and our interactive community power toolkit that provides audio, video, and stories of how communities have made progress toward their goals. Local Energy Rules is produced by myself and Maria McCoy. Editing provided by audio engineer Drew Birschbach. Tune back into Local Energy Rules every two weeks to hear more powerful stories of communities taking on concentrated power to transform the energy system. Until next time, keep your energy local and thanks for listening.

All Hands on Deck in Hanover

Salas has worked on energy policy at the White House and for the U.S. Department of Energy. When she moved to Hanover in 2016, she says, much of the groundwork for clean energy action had already been laid by the community – especially by the Sustainable Hanover committee.

It’s really my job to be the glue that ties the official work that the town’s doing, in support of the town manager and those other directors that I mentioned in public works and zoning, to what’s happening in our Sustainable Hanover committee and our energy subcommittee.

When describing the difference between federal and local policy work, Salas says that her small town of 11,000 residents is much more nimble. Hanover residents rallied around a cause, set an ambitious goal, and can now get to work.

Hanover is also home to Dartmouth College (where Salas directs the River Center for Energy). Salas describes the college as an important resource to tap into, both for faculty expertise and energized students.

First New Hampshire Town to be Ready for 100

Hanover was the first locality in New Hampshire to set a goal for 100 percent renewable electricity, which it set with a target date of 2030. Since Hanover made the commitment in 2017, Concord, Keene, Cornish, and Plainfield have made their own pledges.

Hanover’s commitment to 100 was made official at a town hall-style meeting in the high school’s gymnasium. Participants raised their hands in support of the goal in what Salas describes as a “powerful moment.” She hopes the town can keep this participatory momentum as they implement the goal.

How you get there is as important as getting there in and of itself

Rather than taking the ‘municipal operations first’ approach popular with other cities, Hanover’s renewable electricity target is community-wide. Salas wants renewable electrons powering residents, businesses, and municipal operations. The town also has a 2050 goal for 100 percent renewable building and transportation energy.

The Power to Choose Renewable Energy

Salas mentions many implementation tools she is counting on to reach Hanover’s goals, including energy efficiency, cold climate heat pumps, and community solar. One exciting opportunity lies in community choice energy, a policy tool that is available in New Hampshire as of July 2019.

Read more about how community choice energy enables communities to center people and planet in our 2020 report.

At the time of recording, Salas says that Hanover has just joined a community choice aggregation called Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire. By joining this coalition, Hanover residents will be automatically enrolled in a new electricity broker run by the municipal governments. The governments can procure renewable energy for their residents and offer it at a lower price than the incumbent utility.

“We’re Still Learning”

Salas describes Hanover’s ultimate goal to be a “resilient and healthy community powered by affordable and clean, renewable energy.” She says that equity was always a part of this vision, but in 2020, the town reevaluated its efforts. Hanover sought out national experts and professors from Dartmouth to help them reach more community members and make sure that all voices are heard.

We really turned the dial up in this last year to say, no, this is not only a priority, but it’s an imperative…  we’re willing to slow down a little bit so that we can bring everyone along.

Hanover now has a diversity and equity committee to guide the clean energy transition.

Salas’s final advice is to connect with the other 150 cities and towns that have made 100 percent renewable energy pledges. One resource that has helped her is the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, which has a flexible pricing plan for small towns with limited budgets.

Don’t be afraid to just ask the questions and try to build that local coalition on your own and otherwise reach out. We’d love to hear from you.

Episode Notes

See these resources for more behind the story:

For concrete examples of how cities can take action toward gaining more control over their clean energy future, explore ILSR’s Community Power Toolkit.

Explore local and state policies and programs that help advance clean energy goals across the country, using ILSR’s interactive Community Power Map.

This is the 27th episode of our special  Voices of 100% series, and episode 125 of Local Energy Rules, an ILSR podcast with Energy Democracy Director John Farrell, which shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion.

Local Energy Rules is Produced by ILSR’s John Farrell and Maria McCoy. Audio engineering by Drew Birschbach.

This article originally posted at ilsr.org. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter, our energy work on Facebook, or sign up to get the Energy Democracy weekly update

Featured photo credit: Doug Kerr via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Maria McCoy is a Researcher with the Energy Democracy Initiative. In this role, she contributes to blog posts, podcasts, video content, and interactive features.