BIPCo soil removal underway

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 9:00am

It’s almost a wrap for a few of the many ongoing projects at the Block Island Power Company. Three of the five excavated underground fuel tanks have left the island, as has approximately one half of the contaminated soil that was dug up during their removal.

BIPCo President and Interim BIPCo Board Member Jeffery Wright told his fellow directors at a meeting on Tuesday that once the soil is completely removed, more testing will be conducted by the R.I. Department of Environmental Management to insure that all of the contaminated soil has been dug up. If not, there will be more soil removal.

The soil, which Wright said is only lightly contaminated, has been deemed fit for disposal at the state’s Central Landfill in Johnston. Had it been more contaminated, it would have to be removed to an out-of-state location. Once in Johnston, the soil will be used in the daily process of capping each day’s dumping of trash, in a process that has been described as “lasagna” — the daily layering of trash from cities and towns all over Rhode Island, then soil over it.

The soil is being removed by Joe Sprague. The removal will take more, but smaller, dump truck loads than initially estimated due to the weight of the soil, which is a composite of clay and rock. Despite that, all of the soil should be gone by the end of February. Removal is being funded by monies from the R.I. DEM, except for a $20,000 deductible that must be paid by BIPCo.

Tree trimming should also wrap up by the end of February. The project has been extended and Wright said that he was pleased with the results so far and will spend $15,000 more than was initially budgeted for the project. Currently the tree-trimming crew from Davey Tree is working in the area of Ball O’Brien Park.

Meanwhile the BIPCo linemen, whose ranks have gone from three to four, have been setting new utility poles. Seventeen poles have been slated for replacement along Corn Neck Road, and Wright told his fellow Board members that they had set three new poles the day before and had gone out to replace more that morning. Wright was extremely pleased that the driver delivering the poles to Block Island had dropped each one off at the location where it was to be installed.

The new poles are taller than the old ones, at 35 feet as opposed to 25 feet. This will allow room for fiber optic lines to accommodate the larger broadband project.

Mapping of the distribution system is also nearing completion, with an estimated two weeks to go. However, that is just one step in an ongoing process, with the next one being having an engineering firm to do a model of the system. 

Wright said that during the system mapping some “weak links” were discovered, and that work on the downtown, or “east” circuit would be conducted first in order to “make sure it’s ready for summer.” 

The question of whether BIPCo can remain exempt from the requirement of offering retail choice to its customers has been resolved – at least for another 18 months. The extension of the exemption was approved by the R.I. Public Utilities Commission (the Commission) upon the recommendation of the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers. 

Retail choice is when a utility customer may choose to obtain its power from a source other than the utility that delivers the power. For instance, a BIPCo customer, under retail choice, could choose to “buy” its power from another producer. Sometimes the motivation to buy power from another supplier is economical, but just as often it may be for environmental reasons – such as the desire to buy power that is produced by hydroelectric, solar, or wind, rather than by fossil fuels.

Wright explained that at about 3.5 cents per kilowatt hour, BIPCo’s current standard offer rate is hard to beat. The offering of retail choice also comes with a hefty price tag. Wright said that installation of the necessary software could cost $100,000. “That there is a reason” to ask for an exemption he said.

As for why not ask for a permanent exemption? The Board concluded that that was a question for the Block Island Utility District to decide.