Lower power rates, Deepwater funding are focus of community concern

Mon, 05/30/2011 - 12:30pm
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The Electric Utility Task Group had several community members speak during the public input period at its meeting last week, a rarity for a group that has had only sparse community attendance.

Island resident John Willis raised concerns over the rising electricity rates on the island and some practices by the Block Island Power Company. He said he was moved to speak out after receiving a large electric bill in May.

The bill, he said, estimated his electricity use over the winter rather than taking a precise reading from the meter. Willis complained to the PUC who have ordered that BIPCo refund a portion of the bill — roughly $135, he said.

He also raised issues with how BIPCo purchases its fuel, which is through a company owned by BIPCo Chief Operating Officer Cliff McGinnes Sr.’s son. Willis told the task group “it is about time we sit the BIPCo owner down at the Town Council and ask a few questions.”

Resident Michael Beauregard asked Deepwater Wind Chief Development Officer Paul Rich, who attended the meeting, whether the recent suspension of a federal loan guarantee program would doom the Block Island wind farm project.

Rich acknowledged that Deepwater’s CEO testified to the PUC “a loan guarantee is practically required in order to attract the requisite investment for the project to move forward.” However, he said that Deepwater could still attract financing without the guarantee. He also stated that it would not affect the Power Purchase Agreement.

Homeowner Jerry Zarrella spoke to the task group about the required use of Individual Sewer Disposal Systems (ISDS) on the island and how they relate to electricity usage. The town requires homeowners to install electric septic systems in certain cases in order to protect the Great Salt Pond watershed. Zarrella said his electric septic system had increased his power consumption, which caused BIPCo to install a demand meter.

Zarrella suggested that the town subsidize homeowners with electric systems for the additional electricity usage. Since the town requires the systems, he argued, it should assist with the extra charges.

The task group also discussed a planned community forum to discuss how to lower electricity rates on the island. Task group member Bill Penn recommended using an outside mediator to help facilitate the discussion.

Penn suggested using the Consensus Building Institute, a group affiliated with Harvard Law School, which would moderate the forum. The institute suggested holding a three to four-day work session, where the community would work through the costs and benefits of the different solutions for the island’s energy issues.

The institute would charge between $3,500 and $5,000 for the session. Penn will seek funding from the Block Island Residents Associate.