NHEC President: Broadband Is the Next Essential Service

This opinion piece was written by NHEC President/CEO Steve Camerino and appeared in several New Hampshire publications.

When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold earlier this year, it closed schools and businesses and forced many New Hampshire residents to work from home or participate in remote learning. It’s been inconvenient and frustrating at times, but with a good internet connection it was possible to adapt to this changing world. For tens of thousands of New Hampshire residents without access to broadband internet, however, connecting to the “new normal” has not been easy. In fact, the pandemic has further exposed a digital divide that threatens to leave a substantial number of Granite Staters behind.

New Hampshire Electric Cooperative has long recognized that a vibrant local and state economy requires a broadband infrastructure that supports economic development, improved educational opportunities, and a modern electric grid. For several years, the Co-op has explored options to help our member-owners connect to broadband internet, especially in the more rural parts of our service territory where the need is acute. As a non-profit cooperative founded in 1939 to bring light and power to unserved areas of the state, NHEC is well positioned to once again meet the needs of our member-owners, this time by ensuring that everyone served by NHEC has access to high speed internet.

To move forward on this goal, we’re asking NHEC members to vote on proposed changes to the rules that govern how the Co-op operates. NHEC’s bylaws allow us to provide “other goods and services” to our members, but they don’t provide the flexibility our Board of Directors needs to take advantage of emerging opportunities, many of which unfold quite quickly, like accessing government funding and forging new business partnerships. In mid-September, NHEC members will have the opportunity to change NHEC’s bylaws to allow the Co-op to explore available options to ensure our members have access to the internet they need.

The NHEC Board of Directors unanimously recommends approval of the proposed bylaw changes because they believe that NHEC can provide this essential service for our members while safeguarding the viability of our core mission – delivering safe, reliable and affordable energy and energy solutions to our members.

The COVID-19 pandemic and our members’ requests for help have made clear that access to high speed internet is nearly as important today to rural New Hampshire as electricity was in 1939. Broadband internet increases property values and is an essential business tool. But in real terms, it can be the difference between a resident in a rural town starting a home business or being forced to move elsewhere for a better internet connection. It means that a 5th grader in the North Country can get the same educational opportunities as a student in another part of the state where broadband service exists. The reality is that, over time, families and businesses will be reluctant, and in most cases unwilling, to locate in towns where they don’t have access to high speed internet service.  We hope Co-op members will support the proposed bylaw changes and help us bridge the digital divide.

We are still in the early days of what will be a multi-year effort to ensure members have access to broadband internet, but what is already clear is that we need to amend the Co-op’s bylaws to go down this road. We invite you to keep up on our efforts and all the latest news on our website: www.nhec.com/broadband.

NHEC Awards First Lineworker Scholarship

NHEC Awards First Lineworker Scholarship

PLYMOUTH, NH – Austin Tallman of Plymouth has been named the first recipient of the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative (NHEC) Lineworker Scholarship.

Tallman, a 2020 graduate of Plymouth Regional High School, will use the $2,500 award as he pursues his career at Northwest Lineman College  in Edgewater, Florida.

Tallman first considered a career in electrical line work after a presentation at his high school by NHEC lineworkers.

“Austin demonstrated in his scholarship application that he is a hard worker and is truly dedicated to pursuing a career in the industry,” said Sara Thielbar, head of the NHEC search committee. “We wish him luck in his training and career.”

NHEC to Hold Member Vote to Further Broadband Efforts

PLYMOUTH, NH (August 13, 2020) – New Hampshire Electric Cooperative’s (NHEC) Board of Directors has voted unanimously to propose amendments to the organization’s bylaws. These proposed changes would provide NHEC with additional flexibility as it explores various options to ensure its members have access to broadband internet. NHEC members will receive ballots in September for a special vote on the proposed amendments.

As NHEC has explored various options and opportunities to expand high speed internet access, it has become apparent that the organization’s bylaws do not provide the flexibility needed to enable the Co-op to take advantage of emerging local, state, and federal funding opportunities. While NHEC can provide its members with services and goods other than electric service, like broadband, the bylaws require a lengthy approval process of the business and funding opportunities for these other goods and services.

Earlier this year NHEC held its annual election to fill vacancies in the Co-op’s Board of Directors. As part of that election process, a group of NHEC members petitioned to add a ballot question adding “facilitating access to broadband internet for members” as one of the purposes for which NHEC was formed. This ballot question fell just short of achieving the two-thirds necessary for adoption, and NHEC’s founding documents were not amended. The vote that will be held in September is intended to amend only NHEC’s bylaws and does not change the Co-op’s primary focus on providing electric service. The proposed bylaw amendments would have been necessary even if the earlier vote had passed.

NHEC members will be able to vote by mail or electronic ballot on whether the organization’s bylaws should be amended. If the proposed amendments pass, the Co-op will have additional flexibility to enable the Board of Directors to quickly explore and pursue opportunities to provide all members with access to affordable high speed internet service. These opportunities include applying for local, state, and federal funding, partnering with other organizations, creating an affiliate to provide broadband, or potentially owning and operating a broadband network. The change in the bylaws would allow NHEC to pursue these options with approval from either the Board of Directors or by a member vote, depending upon the details of the opportunity.

“As a democratically governed cooperative, NHEC’s member-owners have a direct role in setting the Co-op’s priorities,” stated Tom Mongeon, Chair of NHEC’s Board of Directors. “I hope all members will vote in this special election and support the proposed bylaw changes to give the Co-op the needed flexibility to explore all broadband options.”

“The Co-op has been working diligently to explore and evaluate every avenue available to provide members with affordable, reliable, high speed internet service,” said Steve Camerino, NHEC’s President and CEO. “Through that work it is clear that our current bylaws need to be updated to reflect the speed at which opportunities are emerging.”

A special meeting will be held at 10 A.M. on Tuesday, October 20, 2020 for members to receive the results of the vote.   Given the current restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, the meeting will be held via Zoom Webinar. Registration and login information for Co-op members will be provided with the ballot and on NHEC’s website.

The text of the proposed bylaw amendments will be posted on NHEC’s website on or before August 20, 2020 and will be included on the ballots and in ballot-related materials to be mailed to members in September.

NHEC Part of New Project to Manage Energy Storage Interconnections

Energy storage technologies have a crucial role to play in enabling the transition to a low-carbon economy. Despite significant growth of the energy storage market in recent years, the process of connecting this technology to the electricity grid remains complex and unclear in many states across the U.S. A new project, supported by a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office, aims to simplify the interconnection process for energy storage.

The project team, led by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), will identify and develop solutions to regulatory and technical barriers in the interconnection process of standalone energy storage and solar-plus-storage projects . From there, the team will create a nationally applicable toolkit of solutions that apply to diverse states and markets. Extensive training and educational outreach will drive adoption of the resulting solutions in a majority of states. Ultimately, the project aims to reduce the costs and time to process interconnection applications and interconnect energy storage and solar-plus-storage systems safely to the distribution grid.

In addition to IREC, the project team includes the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the Energy Storage Association (ESA), the California Solar & Storage Association (CALSSA), utilities New Hampshire Electric Cooperative Inc. (NHEC) and PacifiCorp, and law firm Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, LLP (SMW).

“In many states, if you propose a system with solar-plus-storage, the rules about how to interconnect to the grid are not at all clear,” explained Larry Sherwood, IREC President and CEO . “That creates a lot of uncertainty for developers, which increases costs and may scare them away from certain markets. As a result, the full benefits of storage are not realized. Establishing best practices for the interconnection of storage to the grid is critical to sustaining market growth and enabling significant clean energy deployment.”

“New Hampshire Electric Cooperative is pleased to participate in the important work of this study. Electric cooperatives serve a significant segment of the American population, under sometimes difficult circumstances,” said David Erickson, NHEC Director of Access and Distributed Resources . “We see this study as helping provide the tools to the cooperative community that make the benefits of storage and solar technologies accessible and affordable to our members.”

“Standalone energy storage and solar-plus-storage systems provide significant potential for increased grid reliability and resilience,” said Arshad Mansoor, President of EPRI. “We look forward to applying our technical expertise to help address grid interconnection challenges.”

“If we’re able to more efficiently connect energy storage to the grid, costs will plummet, making solar-plus-storage systems more affordable and accessible to families and businesses,” said Justin Baca, SEIA Vice President of Markets & Research. “This project will help us speed interconnection times and make it easier to connect solar-plus-storage systems of all sizes to the grid. By 2023, nearly one in four distributed generation solar systems could be paired with energy storage.”

“Contractors and utilities all know there is a lot of growing up to do on the interconnection process for energy storage,” said Brad Heavner, CALSSA Policy Director. “We are excited to collaborate with this team to work through these complex issues and develop and share clear recommendations.”

“Developing the tools that stakeholders can use to reduce the time spent and cost incurred connecting storage projects to the grid will accelerate the safe and affordable deployment of energy storage and storage plus solar projects,” noted Marc Chupka, Vice President for Research and Programs at ESA  “We are pleased to contribute to this important project.”

To learn more about this initiative, visit https://cutt.ly/storage-interconnection or subscribe to updates at https://cutt.ly/interconnection-updates.

 

About IREC: The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) builds the foundation for rapid adoption of clean energy and energy efficiency to benefit people, the economy and our planet. IREC develops and advances the regulatory reforms, technical standards, and workforce solutions needed to enable the streamlined integration of clean, distributed energy resources. Learn more at www.irecusa.org.

NHEC Foundation Supports Communities With $54,000 in Grants

PLYMOUTH, NH – The New Hampshire Electric Co-op Foundation (NHEC Foundation) awarded 12 grants in June totaling $54,395 to organizations throughout New Hampshire.  The following organizations received grants ranging from $2,000 – $7,500.  Carroll County RSVP,  Easterseals New Hampshire, Gibson Center for Senior Services, Lakes Region Community Services, LISTEN Community Services, Local Foods Plymouth, NH Audubon, New Hampshire Public Radio, Pemi Youth Center, Reach High Scholars Program (Raymond), Squam Lakes Association, White Horse Addiction Center.

The NHEC Foundation is funded by the generosity of over 40,000 New Hampshire Electric Co-op members who participate in the Round Up Program. Participating members agree to have their monthly electric bill rounded up to the next dollar, which enables the NHEC Foundation to award quarterly grants as well as scholarships to the children of NHEC members.  To learn more about the NHEC Foundation, enroll in the Round Up Program or apply for a Foundation grant, please visit www.nhec.com/nhec-foundation.