Reaping the Benefit of Circuit Riders in Our Region

By Ann Shedd. Originally Published in The Monadnock Shopper News, Green Monadnock column, February 2024.

What does the phrase “Circuit Rider” conjure for you? Do you picture a 19th century minister or judge on a horse, traveling from town to remote town to preach, officiate at weddings or baptisms, or render judgments in an improvised courtroom?

Welcome to the 21st century’s “Energy Circuit Riders:” a team of no-cost consultants for municipalities, schools, small businesses, and farmers in our state through a program of the non-profit Clean Energy NH (CENH). After several years of piloting a position assisting municipalities in the North Country, CENH has now hired Energy Circuit Riders for municipalities in the Monadnock and Seacoast regions and Sullivan County.

Circuit Riders’ services for municipalities, including school districts, include assessments of “the most bang for the buck” options to make facilities and operations more energy efficient – and cost-effective – whether by weatherization, equipment upgrades, clean energy installations, or electrification of vehicles and equipment. The Circuit Riders’ walk municipalities through the maze of potential funding, assist with grant applications to secure funding for selected projects, and also assist in the selection of qualified contractors to complete the necessary work.

Within the first few years of having an experienced staffer “riding the circuit” in the North Country, over a dozen communities there have completed energy efficiency and clean energy projects. According to CENH reports, as of 2022 “The Circuit Rider Program has helped North Country communities receive more than $1.2 million in incentives and grants, resulting in over $3 million dollars invested in clean energy projects.”

In 2022 John Kondos of Chesterfield was hired as the first Monadnock Energy Circuit Rider. He has helped a number of our towns assess opportunities for greater energy efficiency in their town halls, public works, fire and safety facilities, and road fleets. In collaboration with Southwest Region Planning Commission, John had previously worked on Brownfields assessments, evaluating contaminated sites for their solar potential. “Brownfields” are often undevelopable for other uses, making the solar installations an excellent and even revenue-generating opportunity. (Peterborough has had a solar installation on its old landfill since 2015, powering its wastewater treatment plant and other town needs). John’s work as Circuit Rider is now helping the Town of Dublin explore a very promising landfill-as-solar site. He encouraged and is supporting the Town of Winchester as it takes steps toward grant-supported clean-up of a former tannery site for a potentially very sizable solar installation.

The newest Energy Circuit Rider services available in our region are specifically to help rural small businesses and farmers access “REAP grants.” The Rural Energy for America Program is offered by the US Department of Agriculture, and the grants cover up to 50% of the cost of various energy efficiency or clean energy projects. Several businesses in the Monadnock region have already secured REAP funding for solar projects. The Guernsey Professional Building in Peterborough, Harrisville Designs, and State Line Trucking Services in Fitzwilliam have all been awarded grants for solar installations that will dramatically reduce electrical costs for their facilities. To bring more REAP investment for other small businesses and farmers in our region, CENH Circuit Rider Gabe Chelius is available to help develop projects and assist with grant applications. Gabe builds on his experience doing this work in the North Country. Among interesting projects there: an application for solar installation on an ice cream shop in Bethlehem motivated in part by that area’s frequent grid outages: who wants freezers full of melted ice cream? He also helped a sporting goods store in Errol work through its grant application for a solar-plus-battery installation, which could be a valuable community resource in the event of a prolonged grid outage. Sadly, Keene is not considered “rural” enough to qualify for the REAP grants, but all other communities in the Monadnock region are eligible.

The non-profit Monadnock Sustainability Hub has worked closely with Clean Energy NH (CENH), and has been excited to support CENH in its introduction of Monadnock Energy Circuit Riders. What a valuable asset to our towns, school districts, small businesses, and farmers! You can learn more about the program, REAP grants, and how to access the Circuit Riders’ services on the CENH website:

Ann Shedd is a retired physician, a former member of the City of Keene’s Conservation Commission and Energy and Climate Committee, and a current member of the Board of the Monadnock Sustainability Hub. She is heartened to see energy efficiency and clean energy projects occurring at a growing pace throughout the Monadnock region.