BIPCo numbers come in strong

Fri, 08/28/2020 - 9:45am

The Block Island Utility District held its second annual meeting on Saturday, August 22 via Zoom. Despite being held late in the afternoon of what was a beautiful Saturday, the Board of Commissioners and Block Island Power Company President Jeffery Wright were joined by about a dozen curious ratepayers.

By now, many are aware of the efforts of management and staff in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. All employees volunteered to forgo annual raises in pay, and any and all nonessential expenditures were curtailed.

The good news was that the expected financial hit from the pandemic did not play out as expected. Wright said they “were prepared for a much worse financial crisis,” adding that “it was a good exercise.”

After taking a 23 percent hit to revenues in May, there was a sudden uptick in activity towards the end of June. Revenues for that month were down only six percent. July, expected to be down 20 percent, was only down one percent, and August, so far, is on track with previous years. “We should all consider ourselves fortunate,” Wright said. He likened the current situation to “a bad weather year.”

Still, some projects had to be put off. The utility wanted to start its voltage conversion project this fall, but in order to do so, materials would have been needed to be ordered a couple of months ago. Instead, the project will be performed in the fall of 2021. Tree trimming and pole replacement will resume shortly, however.

Contaminated soil removal in the area of the old gas station will most likely be done this winter. Wright said the estimated amount of soil removal, about 100 dump truck loads, will be two to three times what was removed when the underground fuel storage tanks were taken out. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is expected to cover most, if not all of the cost.

The company is also looking into a utility scale battery storage system, closely following emerging technologies and the experience of the Pascoag Utility District, which is also installing one. Wright said that there was a $250,000 matching grant available, and that in the event of a cable outage, the system could provide electricity for the entire island for about an hour. It could also be used for peak shaving.

Utility District Chair Barbara MacMullan provided an overview of the accomplishments of the past year, first and foremost of which was the successful filing of a rate case with the R.I. Public Utilities Commission, the first in over 10 years. The new rate structure differs from the old one mainly by going from two seasonal rates to three, a more realistic reflection of usage than in the past. But most importantly, the new rate structure was designed with no overall increase in revenues collected.

Another accomplishment was the addition of an energy efficiency plan, the first for the utility, and the development of a new net metering policy that is set to be filed with the PUC as soon as (and if) legislation lifting the three percent cap is passed in the Rhode Island General Assembly.

The three percent cap for net metering is set by state law, and BIPCo has exceeded that cap. Later, in his president’s report, Wright said that the board had had “tough discussions” on the subject. “We’re doing our best here to keep an open mind. It would have been easy to say [we’ve met] the three percent cap and that’s it.”

Also, as part of his report, Wright wanted to recognize his staff and the efforts they had put in over the year. One area the public probably isn’t aware of, since it’s largely off limits, is the work done by staff in cleaning up the yard and plant.

During public input, one ratepayer asked if an electric car charging station that Tesla had offered to donate was “still on the table.” The board will explore that in upcoming meetings.