During the summer only

Citing costs, Sewer Dept. looks into a return to generator use

Thu, 09/26/2019 - 5:00pm
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Sewer Company Supt. Dylan Chase informed the members of the Sewer Commission that he is thinking of undertaking a study to see how much it would cost the department to get off the power grid during July and August and return to using its two diesel generators for those two peak-use months. The company connected to the Block Island Power Company in 2017 and has not used them in any real capacity since then. They are run now only for testing and routine maintenance.

But electric bills for July and August this year totaled more than $47,000, which caught Chase’s attention. This prompted him to look into what it would cost to get off the grid and run the generators during July and August, which, at this point, is only a theoretical conversation.

Doing the math, Chase told The Block Island Times that the diesel used to run the main plant on the generators in 2016 and 2017 averaged 128.36 gallons a day. Using the recent price of diesel at $2.71 per gallon, Chase said it would cost $347.86 per day in the peak season of July and August to run the main plant on the generators. He stressed that these numbers did not include the cost of labor or preventive maintenance for the generators. (In 2014, the fuel cost for the entire year was about $76,000, according to town Deputy Finance Director Mona Helterline.)

By dividing his two electric bills from the power company for July and August — totalling $47,153.59 this year — by 62, the number of days in both months, Chase calculated the cost of running the plant now that it is on the grid at $763.86 a day during the peak season. The difference in cost between generators and BIPCo was $416 a day, or 54 percent less. 

The possibility of going back to the generators for those two months is “a discussion I’m willing to have,” Chase told the members of the commission on Thursday, Sept. 19. “We could cut our costs considerably,” while noting there were many variables involved and the cost comparisons were not precise.

Chase said he was also cognizant of the environmental consequences of running the generators, and that everything, including factoring maintenance and labor costs, would need to be considered before any decision is made. “We need to include those variables in any cost analysis,” said Chase. “And I don’t want to step backwards on the environmental aspect. We’re aware of that.”

On the positive side, Chase said the energy coming from the wind farm “was far more reliable.”

High Street water main project

In other news from the Water and Sewer Commission meeting, Water Company Supt. John Breunig said that he was looking into the possibility of receiving a grant to defray as much as 45 percent of the cost of repairing the town’s main water line. The cost of repairing the High Street/Payne Road water line is projected to be about $2.2 million, said Breunig. A grant from the United States Department of Agriculture could cover about $1 million of that cost, said Breunig. (The town is eligible for funding under the USDA’s Rural Water and Wastewater Program.)

“I’d like a motion to please move forward with the USDA funding,” said Breunig. The motion was approved by the board.

“This is a big win for us, by the way,” said Breunig, but added that the cost of the program will “still raise our debt service.”

Member Brad Marthens said that was why he still wanted to explore the possibility of socializing the cost of the project with all town taxpayers, “because it benefits the whole town.”