BIPCo enters new territory

BIPCo Board of Directors down to two members

Fri, 10/27/2017 - 8:30am
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For four people on the Block Island Power Company’s Board of Directors, the meeting on Oct. 18 turned out to be their final one in that capacity.

Four members were running for the Block Island Utility District’s Board of Commissioners, and Attorney Kathy Merolla told them they could not serve on both boards. Those four are Bill Penn, Barbara MacMullan, Everett Shorey, and Jack Savoie, and they all prevailed in Tuesday’s election.

Nancy Dodge and Norris Pike will remain on the BIPCo Board. The Town Council can appoint at least one more member, but BIPCo President Jeffery Wright said that the company’s bylaws allow BIPCo to continue running with just one director.

One of the first tasks for the newly-elected Commissioners will be electing officers and setting bylaws, one of which would be determining how to hold future elections for the Board of Commissioners. The initial election was run by the town.

“You don’t have to re-invent the wheel,” said Town attorney Kathy Merolla, as there are many models for bylaws that can be utilized. 

Penn asked if the Utility District would need to file any articles of incorporation with the Rhode Island Secretary of State.

“No, this is a legislatively created” not-for-profit, Merolla said. She added that the Utility District would have to file for not-for-profit status with the IRS however. Due to the legislation, the Utility District is already exempt from state taxes. 

Merolla urged the candidates, if elected to “know the legislation very well,” as the bylaws could not contradict it in any way.

While people can’t serve on both boards, MacMullan asked if there were any limits on how the two boards could work together. She noted that there were operational issues that needed to be ongoing, and running in parallel. 

“There’s not a limit on that,” answered Merolla. 

Due to potential conflicts of interest, Penn wondered whether the Utility District would have to get its own accountant and attorney.

BIPCo President Jeffery Wright, acknowledging all that attorney Mike McElroy and accountant David Bebyn do for the company, said: “It would be hard to go cold turkey.”

“Conflicts [of interest] would have to be considered by both boards,” said Shorey. 

Those ongoing operational issues are many, and Wright provided an update on the status of them. “The fire repairs are coming to a close,” he said. New switchgear for the damaged generators is in place and the new generator building needed only some more wiring. 

A new generator is arriving in January, and generator 26, which Wright termed a “space hog,” can hopefully be sold. Wright said he was “reaching out” to Milton-Cat on finding a buyer. 

As for the underground tank removal and replacement, Wright said the new above-ground tanks were in place and sitting on a concrete pad. After the lines on the new tanks are connected to the generators, the old tanks can come out of the ground. 

The biggest line item in the tank project budget is a reserve for soil contamination and remediation. Wright was optimistic about the situation. While excavating for the new tanks, the soil appeared “pretty clean,” and was quite close to where the old tanks are located, said Wright. 

The new billing system won’t be implemented until next June. Wright said the firm developing the financial system was going through the existing system and that based on just the last two days of work, he realized “there’s a lot behind the scenes.”

A new website, being developed by John Barry of MacSperts, should be going live in January. Wright said that the framework is done and that for now the site is in BIPCo’s name.  However, domain names have been reserved for the new Utility District and the Utility District would acquire it as part of the overall asset transfer. 

Mapping the current distribution system is starting with the goal of developing both short-range and longe-range plans for capital improvements. One of the short-term goals is to “balance out the load” between the existing circuits. 

A long term goal is to switch from a Delta system to a Wye system. Currently the entire island is configured on a Delta system whereby electricity is delivered by two phase wires.  If one wire goes out, the electricity drops from 120 volts to 60, causing a brown-out. The Wye system operates with one phase wire, and one ground wire, so that if the power goes out, it goes out completely, avoiding the brown-out, which can be very damaging to certain types of appliances and equipment. 

Wright told The Block Island Times that if the system is converted to a 4,160 Volt system, from the current 2,400 Volt system, the “Wye upgrade comes with it.” Converting the system is a “pretty intense project” with many components, including adding a neutral wire along the entire system and upgrading transformers.  He added though that the new National Grid substation on the island is already wired for a Wye system and all that would be required there is to “turn a switch.” 

The tree-trimming project drew some criticism when it was learned at a Land Trust meeting that some trees were to be taken down entirely, for purposes of ease, instead of merely being trimmed. “I was shocked when I read that” in the newspaper said Wright. “It’s never easier to remove a whole tree.” He added that “most customers want us to do more, not less. We’re going to ease into it.”

When asked about the tree diagonally across from the police station that had been marked with pink tape, the removal of which was of concern to many, Wright said:  “We’re going to do our best to keep it.”  He added that the long-term health of the tree was not good, however.