City Climate Corner

Keene NH: Small City, Big Climate Punch

Episode Summary

Keene, population 23K, has been leading on climate action for over two decades. While their first formal action was in 2000, they've since done a Climate Action Plan, Climate Adaptation Plan, and now a Sustainable Energy Plan. We interview Mayor George Hansel and Planner Mari Brunner, to learn about the powerful alliance of citizens, elected officials, and staff that has pushed Keene forward.

Episode Notes

Keene NH, population 23K, has been leading on climate action for over two decades. While their first formal action was in 2000, they've since done a Climate Action Plan, Climate Adaptation Plan, and now a Sustainable Energy Plan. We interview Mayor George Hansel and Planner Mari Brunner, to learn about the powerful alliance of citizens, elected officials, and staff that has pushed Keene forward. 


Episode Transcription


Abby Finis  00:02

Cities produce more than sixty percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Big cities get a lot of attention, but most household emissions in the US actually come from communities outside urban cores, making them critical players in climate mitigation and climate justice. City Climate Corner explores how these small- and mid-size cities are tackling climate change and moving toward an equitable and sustainable future. 

Abby Finis  00:21

I'm Abby Finis.

Larry Kraft  00:23

And, I'm Larry Kraft. We're co-hosts for City Climate Corner. Hey, Abby. 

Abby Finis  00:30

Hey, Larry. 

Larry Kraft  00:31

Today we're doing an episode on Keene, New Hampshire. New Hampshire has kind of an interesting history for both of us, doesn't it? 

Abby Finis  00:39

It does. It does. 

Larry Kraft  00:41

I can start. When I was back in the tech industry, my now wife and I were working together and were on a business trip in New Hampshire. She actually was in public relations. And she got me on this TV show. And it was filmed out in New Hampshire, near Newport, New Hampshire. Someone that worked for her got us booked in the main hotel in the region, which happened to be this pretty nice bed and breakfast. And it was there that we realized that we had some feelings,

Abby Finis  01:11

Okay, they say Virginia is for lovers. Sounds like it's New Hampshire.

Larry Kraft  01:17

Yeah, I've very fond memories of New Hampshire.

Abby Finis  01:19

Yeah, I also have a TV show history with the state of New Hampshire.

Larry Kraft  01:25

Was it as positive as mine?

Abby Finis  01:27

You know, I'm looking back on it, it's become a positive story. But you know, it's kind of an epic saga. So I won't relay the whole thing here. But if you Google my name with New Hampshire, you will find that I made an appearance on Northwoods Law when I learned of Mount Washington.

Larry Kraft  01:47

Oh, tell more.

Abby Finis  01:49

Well, just a little tidbit, you know, this Midwestern girl, I think the highest point here is about 2300 feet. And Mount Washington, I think is just over 6000, which doesn't seem that big when you've been to Colorado. But it turns out, Mount Washington has the highest recorded wind speeds on land on Earth. And I did not know this and ended up on a hiking adventure where we got stuck and had to call for help and ended up on a reality TV show. 

Larry Kraft  02:18

Oh, my goodness. 

Abby Finis  02:19

It ended up being a very positive experience. And we donated, thank you, to the New Hampshire Fish and Wildlife for getting us out of a little bit of a jam.

Larry Kraft  02:29

Wow. But today, we're actually in a slightly different part of New Hampshire. Keene, New Hampshire, in the southwest corner.

Abby Finis  02:35

Yes. Nice, safe space. 

Larry Kraft  02:38

And, you came across this interesting city, right?

Abby Finis  02:40

Yeah, we found their sustainable energy plan and then started digging in more deeply into their website and saw all the cool things that they were doing there. And it's just another testament to it doesn't matter what size your community is. This is a small college town in southwestern New Hampshire that is doing a ton of really good and pragmatic work.

Larry Kraft  03:02

Let's listen. 

Start of interview

Larry Kraft  03:06

Today our guests are from the city of Keene, New Hampshire. We have Mayor George Hansel and senior planner in the Community Development Department, Mari Brunner, welcome to City Climate Corner. We'll start by asking each to introduce yourselves. Why don't we start with the mayor?

George Hansel  03:23

My name is Mayor George Hansel. I just started my second term as mayor of the Elm City. And before that, I was a city councilor, also a business owner here in Keene, have a family run manufacturing company - we make process coolers, drinking fountains and sort of industrial equipment.

Larry Kraft  03:40

And, Mari. 

Mari Brunner  03:41

Hi, my name is Mari Brunner. I'm a senior planner in the Community Development Department and I've been with the city since early 2018. I provide staff support to our Energy and Climate Committee, which is the group that worked on our sustainable energy plan. I also help provide staff support to the planning board. I've also lived in Keene since 2012 so I'm also a resident of the city.

Larry Kraft  04:03

Great. Mayor Hansel, can you start by giving us some background on the city of Keene?

George Hansel  04:09

Keene is in the southwest corner of New Hampshire we have about 23,000 residents and uniquely we are the county hub. We're a hub for a region and a population of about 80,000 people in the surrounding area. We're the only real population center for about 35 ish miles around us. So we really serve as the commercial base. Keene State College and Antioch University are located in Keene New Hampshire, government, commerce, industry, it all sort of centers around Keene, and we're happy to play that role in the community.

Larry Kraft  04:47

Now that you're the big city in the county, huh? 

George Hansel  04:49

Right, the big small city. 

History of climate work

Larry Kraft  04:51

Mari, one of the things we noticed was that Keene got involved in climate work quite a while ago. It looks like at first, formally recognized climate change as a problem in 2000 and adopted its first Climate Action Plan in 2004. Could you give us a rundown of some of this history working on climate change?

Mari Brunner  05:12

That's one of the reasons that I wanted to work for the city to be honest. The city has a really long history when it comes to taking a stance on climate change. I believe it was actually 1999 when the city first joined an organization called ICLEI. That was a group of municipalities that kind of formed to come up with solutions to climate change. And Keene was one of the early communities to sign on to that effort. As you noted in I think it was 2000, the city formally formed a committee to work on this issue. And we did a greenhouse gas inventory, I believe that came out in 2000 or 2001. And then that was used as the baseline for that 2004 Climate Action Plan. Another effort that the city was an early adopter on was doing a climate adaptation plan. I believe you were one of the first communities in the nation to do that. In 2007, we were kind of a pilot community with ICLEI to do a climate adaptation plan. It was very timely for Keene because we had just recently had a lot of flooding in 2005. So it was a big topic on everyone's mind.

Larry Kraft  06:21

Little advertisement here. We just did an episode a little while back on ICLEI. So we learned about all the things they're doing. Mayor, why is this so important to people of Keene?

George Hansel  06:33

So the story of Keene being a leader in sustainable energy and taking that role is really the story of a handful of people in the Keene community that have just been really unselfish with their time, their expertise. And they've been a driving force and decided to take this on, and have consistently applied pressure to move the city forward, and in this way. Our recent Sustainable Energy Plan is a perfect example of that. I mean, this was put together with staff support, but with over a dozen people in the community that lent their expertise to pull this really ambitious plan together. 

George Hansel  07:13

It's part of Keene's DNA at this point, I think the city early on said, "Okay, we can do something about this with our own operations." We were very forward thinking in that way, as far as purchasing sustainable energy and looking at our building envelopes and investing in weatherization and solar energy generation and lots of different things. But, we got to the point where all the low hanging fruit had been taken. We had done everything pretty much we can do with our city operations. So now we have to look to the community. How do we address climate change and our response in the community. We just put the plan together, we have a path forward. And so now the challenge over the next few years is going to be just continuing to bring people on board and showing the benefits of some of these initiatives. But, like I said, it's part of our identity as a city. It's something that I see as a selling point for the area. It's something that the city uses to attract great talent like Mari to come and work for the city. I really feel it's part of our heart DNA.

Sustainable Energy Plan

Abby Finis  08:23

I love that. I talk to planning students all the time. And increasingly, they are drawn to cities that want to work on climate action. And, that's really encouraging so that we can start getting more staff build up and cities across the country. We're driving that from from the inside City Hall. You both mentioned the Sustainable Energy Plan. And that was adopted fairly recently in 2021. And was developed in response to a resolution adopted by the council that calls for one hundred percent of electricity coming from renewable sources by 2030. And then one hundred percent of thermal and transportation energy also coming from renewable sources. Mari what went into the development of this plan?

Mari Brunner  09:05

Yeah, that was a pretty big effort. I think as Mayor Hansel mentioned, it was really driven a lot by a small group of volunteers from the community who are really passionate about this issue. Even the adoption of the resolution in the first place. That was a grassroots effort that came from members of the community who learned about the one hundred percent renewable energy campaign. I think it's a Sierra Club Campaign. They learned about it, did some research. They did the legwork, went around interviewed, I think over twenty different stakeholders in the community all on their own, got all these people to sign on to the idea brought it to city council and by the time they brought it to city council, there was already a lot of support for it. 

Mari Brunner  09:50

And then for the plan itself, we had our Energy and Climate Committee that took the lead on that and again with staff support, like I was the lead author but all of the content in the plan really came from the Energy and Climate Committee and other volunteers in the community that did a lot of the legwork going out holding community meetings before COVID. We had an in person workshop and we were able to do about fourteen of these. We call them like a meeting in a box that basically volunteers came and got a kit from City Hall, brought them out and they held their own meeting. No city staff was there, it was just a conversation among people. And then they would send notes back to city staff. We reached over 140 people with that alone. It was really driven by volunteers, which is pretty cool. We did hire a consultant to help us with some of the work because the 2030 goals a little bit daunting, trying to transition us to one hundred percent renewable electricity. We wanted to get some outside expertise to help us think through what are the different pathways to get there. But the vast majority of the work was actually done by volunteers.

Equity and Weatherization

Abby Finis  10:56

That's great. And the more community involvement and support there is for the plan, the more likely it's going to be successful in implementation. The plan starts with five principles. And I just want to highlight a couple of them. The first one is describing that it wants equity to be at the forefront of the city's efforts. Mayor Hansel, what does equity look like for the implementation of this plan?

George Hansel  11:19

The way I see this whole initiative is it's like how do you consume an elephant? One bite at a time. And it asked involve a lot of different components and pieces. Through the city's leadership, we've shown that, you know, our core competency is keeping potholes filled, keeping water and sewer running, functioning as a government. Sustainability and renewable energy, maybe weren't always in that core competency. They weren't always one of those things that we were focusing on. But they certainly are now and the city taking a leading role is really important. One, we've started our community power plan, we were the first city or town in New Hampshire to submit a community power plan to the regulatory authority. We're pretty proud of that. And now we're waiting for the rules to be established so we can implement it. That gives us a real opportunity to allow every electricity user in the city to potentially choose or take advantage of a renewable energy buying power. 

George Hansel  12:20

Another program that we've spearheaded is working with our community action agency. Community action agencies in New Hampshire are responsible for affordable housing, heating assistance, and lots of different social services. They sort of are the quarterbacks for a lot of that kind of activity. And so partnering with them, we established what we call the 21 in 21 Program, which was focusing weatherization dollars. And, we brought in some additional funding through a statewide grant and started basically a private pilot project, where we're going to be fixing up 21 homes in a concentrated area on the east side of Keene, which needs a little attention. And we're trying to use this project to catalyze reinvestment in those neighborhoods. And so we're redoing a park over there, we're doing some streetscape improvements. And then the 21 in 21 program is bringing in some tax credits that were purchased by local businesses. So it's sort of like the businesses reinvesting in these neighborhoods. And we're focusing the state's weatherization dollars to this specific neighborhood and the city helped our community action agency to identify the areas that would be eligible for the 21 in 21 program. 

George Hansel  13:33

And we're looking at between 50 and $70,000 of investment in each one of those homes. And the investment in homes is just a small part of it. In the springtime when you have four or five, maybe even six houses on the same street all being fixed up and weatherized as part of this program. And signs out front of the homes that have the logos for all the businesses that bought the tax credits to facilitate this kind of thing. It's just going to be an amazing thing to witness. And I think if I was one of the neighbors, even if I wasn't taking advantage of this program, who would incentivize me to say, you know, I've got to keep up, I've got to maybe paint the fence outside of my house or maybe what's going on with replacing those windows? Is that something I could do? So that's the hope. And I think that speaks to the equity question. We're not trying to put solar panels on all of the highest valued homes in town, we're really trying to make sure that the benefits of this initiative are reaching everybody.

Abby Finis  14:27

What is the timeline on that program?

George Hansel  14:30

So it's happening now. We have people who are signing up and they're just checking the eligibility for all of the homeowners that responded to the solicitation, that work is going to be taking place in the spring.

Keene’s Community Power Plan

Abby Finis  14:44

One of the other principles was around economic opportunities and taking advantage of that through clean energy and you mentioned the Community Power Plan. You have an investor owned utility. Can you clarify for us what it means to have a Community Power Plan? And how is that different from your Sustainable Energy Plan? Why do you need a separate plan? And how does it help you achieve that one hundred percent electricity goal?

Mari Brunner  15:10

So in New Hampshire, we have a deregulated electricity market. Right now, anyone has the opportunity to go out and choose a third party electricity supplier, they don't have to go with their default utility provider. But really, the benefits of the deregulated market so far have been, it's been commercial and larger institutions that have been able to take advantage of that, because they have the negotiating power, they have the people on their staff who can figure out what's the best fit for their company. But single families and small businesses have been left behind in that scenario, just because they don't have that same negotiating power. So what community power allows us to do as a municipality, is aggregate all of those electricity users who are currently on the utility supply as their default. We can aggregate them together and go out to bid and hopefully get a better price than the utility. That's the goal. And, we're going to put in more renewable energy than the utility. Our hope is over time to ramp that up to get to that one hundred percent renewable electricity goal. Another major tenet of our plan is equity so along the way, we're trying to make sure that we're being price competitive with utility and not putting any burden onto our residents.

Abby Finis  16:26

Is that going to be an opt in or an opt out program?

Mari Brunner  16:30

It's opt out. Everyone who's currently on the utility supply as their default, they will be switched over to the municipal program, they'll be given two notices before the program goes live, where they can choose to opt out, and then they'll be able to opt out at any time after the program goes live without any penalties or fees.

Abby Finis  16:50

Do you know the percent of renewable you'd be purchasing through this first phase?

Mari Brunner  16:55

It really depends on the market conditions at the time, but we're guessing it'll be around five to ten percent above and beyond the default. So right now in New Hampshire, I believe it's about twenty-two percent renewable in the default electricity supply, so it would be about five to ten percent above that.

Many Plans

Larry Kraft  17:13

So y'all have a Climate Action Plan, a Climate Adaptation Plan, and now a Sustainable Energy Plan. Why was the need felt for Sustainable Energy Plan, in addition to the other stuff that you had?

Mari Brunner  17:32

The Climate Action Plan is pretty dated now, it's from 2004. A lot of the principles in that plan were incorporated into the 2010 comprehensive master plan when that process went forward. But even that plan is starting to get a little dated. So I think we've kind of viewed the Sustainable Energy Plan as an update to the Climate Action Plan. It doesn't include everything that a true Climate Action Plan would include. But it's fairly comprehensive, at least when it comes to the energy piece of it. We really felt that we needed a plan to provide us with a roadmap to get to those goals that we had set for ourselves.

George Hansel  18:07

There was a lot happening at the state level legislatively around energy. And so it really made sense, I think, for us to be paying a lot of attention to this over the past five years, because there was a quickly changing regulatory environment.

Larry Kraft  18:23

Hey, we're taking a quick break to say if you like what you're hearing, please support us. You can do so by clicking the Support Us link on our website, at or you can go to our Store and get some cool merch. 

Community involvement & Energy Week

Larry Kraft  18:38

We want to shift and talk about community involvement. And as we've already heard from you, it's been key in Keene. We really love the website and the different engagement and information sharing tools you have. I even noticed that there were some podcasts like mini clips up there, which are great. So how is the Energy and Climate Committee involved in this? What is their role and plan implementation? How do all these great tools get created?

Mari Brunner  19:07

Well, thank you for noticing the website that was really fun to make. We actually went through the UNH the University of New Hampshire Sustainability Institute fellowship program, we had one of their fellows work with us over the summer to create that website, and she just happened to have a background in making podcasts. That's where those podcast episodes came from. It's not normally in our wheelhouse, but it's a pretty cool addition to the website. But to answer your larger question, the Energy and Climate Committee, they've been around again since I think 2000. So they're a really well established committee. There's eleven members and they all show up to every meeting, pretty much so they're very dedicated. They've formed workgroups, and they're going through the different strategies that were outlined in the plan and they're trying to work on them and get them done. They are advisory to city council, but so far City Council has been very supportive of the work that they're doing. Some examples have started an annual energy week, which happens during October. They're working on creating a solar guidelines to help make it easier for people who want to do solar in Keene. They've done a lot of work over the past year. 

Larry Kraft  20:16

Okay, what happens during energy week? I want to come to Keene energy week next year.

Mari Brunner  20:21

The first energy week, we kind of had two pieces to it. So the first piece was we worked with the utility to do an audit blitz, where they had one of their contractors that they use to do commercial energy audits, came to Keene for a week and went around to a bunch of businesses all at once. We'd let them know in advance that this would be happening, that way, they're able to drum up a lot of business so that it made it more worthwhile for the contractor to come out here. One of the issues that we have in Keene being a little bit remote is that sometimes the contractors that do this work, they're not willing to come out here for the odd job here or there, they want to get a critical mass of work before they're willing to come out. 

Mari Brunner  20:58

That was the first piece that happened in September. And then in October, they had to kick off with Mayor Hansel, they had a webinar for small businesses to help them learn about the resources that are out there to help them do energy efficiency and weatherization. And that was very popular and very well attended. We actually had people from all over the state attend that. And then they had a virtual solar tour, which was very popular, we kicked off the solar virtual tour that week. And we ended with an energy week Expo on railroad square downtown, where just different organizations and businesses had tables, and we get a lot of foot traffic there. So as people were walking by or biking by, they'd stop and chat with people and learn about some of the resources out there. That was really fun. Actually, the weather was still pretty nice. We were able to do something outside and people are catering for that right now I think.

Larry Kraft  21:55

I think I need to propose to my staff here and colleagues at St. Louis Park energy week. What of the tools you have that you have found work best?

Mari Brunner  22:05

For outreach? 

Larry Kraft  22:06


Mari Brunner  22:07

I'd say for the actual planning process that leaving in a box format that I mentioned, that worked really well to reach people that we don't normally reach, which is always a huge challenge. We had somebody do a community energy conversation with an English language learners class. You know, those are not people that you would normally get at a public meeting. We also reached a couple of different schools that way, a Cub Scouts group, I really liked that strategy, because we're always trying to reach people and people are getting burned out on taking online surveys and coming to public meetings.

George Hansel  22:46

Yeah, I think getting out of City Hall getting out of the normal government atmosphere is a real key to success, whether it's the electric vehicle, when they brought all the dealerships brought out their electric vehicles and sort of set up shop at the co op. And as people were walking by, they could test drive them and learn about driving an AV. That seemed to be really good. When we did the streetscape demonstrations and stuff. Again, it was pick a nice day in the summertime in downtown Keene, hardly anything beats that and you just capture people as they're walking by those seem to be really popular events and good ways to engage with the public.

Mari Brunner  23:22

Yeah, the the drive electric expos have been very popular.

George Hansel  23:26

To get back to a previous question just about having the multiple plans. Having these plans adopted has really been an incredible thing, because it's been the message to our different partners that this is something we think is important. And we've had both our utility companies come to the city of Keene and say, "Hey, we read your renewable energy plan. This is how it aligns with what we want to do, how can we help you out?" We've been talking to them about pilot programs and different kinds of really amazing things that a city at 23,000 probably wouldn't even have normally been considered for. But because we've put it out there and continued to put energy behind this, I think our partners have gotten the message and it's allowed us to take advantage of things.

Larry Kraft  24:14

Have you had any significant pushback on things that you're doing?

George Hansel  24:19

I haven't had a lot of significant pushback. I mean, I have a radio show every Saturday where anybody can call in and complain about whatever they want. And a lot of people take me up on that offer. But I don't have a lot of people calling in and saying that we're heading in the wrong direction with sustainability and renewable energy. And that's great.

Mari Brunner  24:38

The one thing I will say with the community power efforts, we did get a lot of people who reached out to the city who were really concerned that we were going to become a utility. As soon as people understood what it was that we were doing, we're not trying to maintain transmission lines, for example, or generate our own power. Once they understood that distinction, a lot of the concerns went away. But that was really the one area where when we first started talking about it, because it had never been done yet, in New Hampshire, we heard a lot of concerns initially, but then once that got cleared up, died down.

George Hansel  25:16

And with some of the programs like with 21 in 21, we're really nervous that the reception would be sort of chilly, because you'd have someone from like a government agency, or a pseudo government agency knocking on your door, saying, "Hey, let me and I wanna check out what your what the condition of your house is." But the reception has been really good out of over one hundred solicitations that were sent out yet to people that respectfully said, "I'm just not interested in that." And then we've had a surge of people just wanting more information and to learn more. So that didn't end up being a problem.

Abby Finis  25:51

Yeah, I think it makes a difference when people can see government is doing a service for them and helping them out. You guys are doing a really great job of communicating that and bringing those services.

George Hansel  26:03

And the key is being transparent. If you come out with something that no one has heard about, I think people would be naturally suspicious of that. But we have a really open and transparent policy. I mean, you hear about things that are just a vision or an idea. And you get to if you're an engaged member of the public, you get to watch them be developed. And we're okay bringing things to the public that aren't fully baked yet. That's part of the process and getting people engaged. I think that's helped a lot.

Building Climate into Keene government

Abby Finis  26:32

The last thing that we want to discuss is, you know, you have all these great plans. But what I am most impressed with is how it's not just about plans, but it's also integrating into other city documents. You mentioned the comprehensive master plan, and you have climate action in there as far back as 2010. And the other thing I noticed when you go to your website right now, the capital improvement program budget is right there for people to review. And oftentimes when I'm looking for the app to dig and do a search to find that for different city sites, and I noticed in there that you have line items for resilience stormwater for infrastructure. Can you speak to who's leading this effort? How are you getting it into these other kinds of city processes and documents?

Mari Brunner  27:16

Specifically with a capital improvement program that goes back to City Council adopted a set of goals. I want to say, George, was that two years ago?

George Hansel  27:27

Yeah, we've been moving the city council to strategic governance structure we call it which starts out with some really high level goals. And then those goals are able to be funneled down to all different types of operations and planning. It was clear and those that goal process that climate resiliency was a big part of that. And, that was one of the ten goals, maybe. The goal shift a little bit, but the sustainability goal, or something similar to that has always been there as a priority since we've started that process.

Mari Brunner  27:58

So when it came time to develop the CIP projects, there's two things that staff look at which one is the master plan, and the other one was that set of council goals. And so all of the projects that are proposed in the plan align with those goals that have been set by the community and by city council. That's been very intentionally done. As far back as I've been with the city. We do that as well with the budget. We also have an internal team of staff that meets and talks about those types of issues as well. We're called the environmentally preferable purchasing team, but we talk about other issues besides just purchasing. So it's like Mayor Hansel said it's in our DNA. It's definitely in the city staffs DNA just because it's been a directive from our city managers, and our mayor's going all the way back to 2000. So it's really become built into our process at this point.

Keene transformation

Abby Finis  28:50

It's really great. Mari, you said you've lived there since 2012. What's the biggest transformation you think you've seen over that time period?

Mari Brunner  28:56

A lot has happened in Keene since I got here. Say one of the things that I really love about Keene is our amazing rail trail system. And something that's happened since I got here is the rail trails have really bad improved and pedestrian bridges have been put in over our busier highways so that it's more connected. New rail trails have been built. Oh, and another big one was the Monadnock food Co Op opened and there's been more development around the railroad square area. Who there's been a lot that's happened since I came to Keene. It's kind of impressive actually to look back and see everything.

Larry Kraft  29:35

I love railroad square, I've got all kinds of visions of it. I imagined it used to be a significant rail hub.

George Hansel  29:44

That's right. Keene really built up around a rail line that came right through and that no longer exists. We converted those into over twelve miles of rail trails. These are hard pack trails that are really well maintained, nice and flat, so they're very accessible to all types of people and uses. We have a very active rail trails group of volunteers that have just raised incredible sums of money to support the rail trails, they've installed solar lights, they've installed bike repair stations. It's really incredible what they've done. And we have several historic bridges that are on the rail trail system. It's an incredible recreational asset for the city. And it goes right through our main street in our downtown. 

George Hansel  30:30

Over the last ten or fifteen years, downtown Keene, and the area around Main Street has just seen a total resurgence. The co op development that Mari's mentioning, that was a twenty plus million dollar redevelopment of an old rail yard. And it's really just sprung up into something that's a gem for the city, a hive of activity, mostly pedestrian activity, which is great. It's helped revitalize our Main Street, even throughout COVID. I mean, you wouldn't believe but well over a dozen businesses moved to the Main Street area in Keene are started in the Main Street area of Keene since COVID started. We never thought that that would happen, but we're seeing a lot of great small business activity in that area.

Larry Kraft  31:14

Wait a minute. So having great pedestrian and bike infrastructure in your main part of town revitalizes and is great for business? Is that what you're saying something like that?

George Hansel  31:24

Yeah, I think so. And you're sort of find yourself leading the public a little bit sometimes down the road of putting in multimodal transportation, infrastructure. But it's been a good, it's been a good investment for Kane. It's a very attractive thing for new residents, and people with kids which Keene is the best place in the state, I would say one of the best places in the country to raise kids and have the skate park and have the rail trails and all of that stuff. It makes it a very idyllic place to grow up, and a good place to raise kids.

Larry Kraft  31:58

Sounds great. Now, I was noticing that you have a fifteen member City Council.

George Hansel  32:05

Yep, that's a lot of city councilors. But New Hampshire likes a lot of representation in government. Our state legislature has 425 members for state population of 1.7 million. That works out to roughly what one representative for every 4000 people. And the city has a lot of city councilors. But that's a good thing. I actually think our form of government works very, very well. We have a professional city manager form of government, the mayor is elected at large. And then we have fifteen city councilors, nonpartisan, and lots of different personalities and backgrounds on that council. But I really do appreciate the way that they all come together and agree on ninety-five percent of the stuff even more than that. It's good. It's how government should be done I think. 


Larry Kraft  32:59

Last question then for you. Any advice for other cities?

George Hansel  33:04

My advice would be to just tackle the small things first. Take as many easy wins as you can get, and just keep chugging along. With creativity in mind. There are a lot of different ways to meet your big goals. And it starts by taking one step down the path. We have a lot of ambitious goals and not a lot of time to achieve them. But I feel really confident because we've got great people that are working on in a lot of different areas. So just keep chugging. 

Larry Kraft  33:35


Mari Brunner  33:36

My advice would be to not be afraid to make really ambitious goals and commitments. It's a little bit scary to say, "Oh, we're going to transition to one hundred percent renewable energy." Okay, how are we going to do that? It's easy to get bogged down in the details and the technicalities, but the reality is that you don't know what opportunities are out there. And you don't know what's going to change in a couple of years, maybe a state policy will change. Maybe there will be a massive federal infrastructure bill you just don't know. So don't be afraid to make those big commitments. Because once you put yourself out there, you'll start to learn about opportunities and people will come to you.

Larry Kraft  34:17

That's great. That sounds like Mari that's one of the things that brought you to Keene. 

Mari Brunner  34:21

Yeah, for sure. 

Abby Finis  34:22

Well, your city packs a really big punch. And, we appreciate you both joining us today!

Abby and Larry debrief

Larry Kraft  34:31

All right, Abby, what are your takeaways?

Abby Finis  34:34

Well, one of the things that I just love to hear is when people are looking for jobs in public spaces, so like cities, that want to do good work on climate and do good work on energy sustainability. And, so you know, searching for that and then bringing those skills and expertise to the role I think is really important to have at the city level, it doesn't always have to be consultants or other groups that are doing the work and having that in house knowledge is really critical. It's encouraging to see more planners learn more about climate action at the local level, and then go into those rules.

Larry Kraft  35:16

Building on that, I like when the Mayor said that they view this as branding, really, of Keene as something that attracts people, attracts talent to them, like Mari. And I have seen that in St. Louis Park, where folks that are interested in doing this kind of work are attracted to us.

Abby Finis  35:35

Yeah, and it attracts people. And it turns out biking and walking and clean air are all enjoyable things. 

Larry Kraft  35:43

Who knew? 

Abby Finis  35:44

Makes me want to visit Keene.

Larry Kraft  35:45

Yeah, right. I also like that the Mayor said that this has been something that was initially kicked off. And even to this day by citizens, there's a lot of very concerned, committed citizens that have pushed and volunteered their time. And it just shows what a few people can do.

Abby Finis  36:04

Yeah, and that's a theme, I think that's come up a number of times in different episodes is people digging in and helping. It's not just the city pushing or it's not just one group, it's a committed and collaborative effort. And those tend to be the most successful.

Larry Kraft  36:20

And then also, I know you really liked them, including this stuff in their comprehensive plan. And they did it in 2010. Initially, right?

Abby Finis  36:28

Yeah, I think their comp plan is from 2010. And I think that they just are from that and including in the budget, putting the sustainable energy plan together. And then the Power Plan is just a very pragmatic approach to achieving their goals. And that was another takeaway for me is just the steps that they're taking. And, of course, it helps that they are in a state that is deregulated, so they can aggregate residents and businesses and purchase power from whoever responds to their plan. So I think that they're on a really good path with that.

Larry Kraft  37:02

Yeah. Hashtag jealousy here.

Abby Finis  37:05

Like building codes and deregulation.

Larry Kraft  37:09

Right. What do you think of that? 21 in 21 Program?

Abby Finis  37:12

Yeah, I am really curious to see how that turns out. It's somewhat similar to Ithaca and on a little bit smaller and more concentrated scale. And, you know, I love that they're partnering with the CAP agency. I think we're starting to see that more and like, how do you leverage different resources and organizations within your community's surrounding area to directly target specific houses and have that turnover and participation and the renovation that will help improve the energy efficiency of the home and then that indoor health and air quality as well.

Larry Kraft  37:47

I liked also what the Mayor was saying then about being excited about having multiple homes in the neighborhood with signs and here's what's happening. 

Abby Finis  37:57


Larry Kraft  37:58

One of the reasons I especially like that is this stuff, weatherization, energy efficiency, solar, when it's visible is contagious.

Abby Finis  38:06

Yeah, and it's not visible on its own. So those signs are really helpful. And, you know, I hope they can talk to each other and share that their energy bills have dropped and discuss those improvements that aren't visible, but are tangible, whether it's your bank account, or just the improved comfort of your home.

Larry Kraft  38:24

So do we need to take a trip to New Hampshire on our way to doing some hiking in Mount Washington?

Abby Finis  38:29

You know, we're really gonna have to map out this road trip. I don't know I do, I need to conquer Mount Washington. I made it so close to the top and just got a little stuck. Turns out it's real windy up there. 

Abby Finis  38:45

We hope you enjoyed this episode of City Climate Corner. If you like what you're hearing, make sure to subscribe and give us a review. If you're able, become a monthly supporter through Patreon. As always, you can find more information on this topic and resources from each episode's guests on our webpage If you have an idea for the show, send us an email at or find us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Larry Kraft  39:08

City Climate Corner is produced by Abby Finis and me, Larry Kraft. Edited by me. Our production assistant is Maggie Morin. Music by…

Abby Finis  39:17

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

Larry Kraft  39:19

Thanks for listening, and we'll see you next time!