Ratepayers say yes to “peak shaving”

Thu, 10/03/2019 - 7:15pm

In “resounding” fashion, the Block Island Utility District’s account holders approved the concept of “peak shaving,”  whereby the utility could operate its diesel generators for up to 53 hours per year as a cost-saving measure. The referendum is nonbinding, but the Utility District’s commissioners wanted to get the public’s input before making a decision on the matter.

As part of the election process, Mary Jane Balser (360 votes) was re-elected to the Board of Utility Commissioners, and Elliott Taubman (352 votes) was elected to a seat for the first time. They will join Chair Barbara MacMullan, Treasurer Bill Penn, and Secretary Everett Shorey on the BIUD Board, which was originally elected in October of 2017. The commissioners are charged with governing and setting policy, with input from account holders, for the Utility District.

About one-third of the account holders (471) responded to the approximately 1,500 ballots that were mailed out this past month. The total number of votes for the “peak shaving” referendum was 457, with 346 account holders voting yes, and 111 voting no.

A number of voters wrote messages in response to the referendum question, which Shorey referenced while announcing the votes to MacMullan and the Board’s Clerk Christine Grele, who were counting the votes.  

The votes were tallied in the conference room at the Utility District’s office on Ocean Avenue on Monday evening at 6:30 p.m. MacMullan, Shorey, and Grele spent two hours opening ballots, recording and rechecking vote counts, and tabulating the results. Taubman was the only member of the public in attendance to witness the vote count.   

MacMullan and Shorey said they were pleased with the one-third voter response to the ballot. “That makes us feel really good,” said MacMullan. “The normal response percentage is about 20 percent. So this is a good turnout.”

MacMullan also noted that the response to the “peak shaving” referendum question was a “resounding” yes. “It shows that there is a clear preference for peak shaving,” she said. “So we will take it up at the next meeting.”

The next BIUD meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 22 at 3:30 p.m.

The ballot referendum stated: “Do you support running BIUD’s diesel generators for an average of 53 hours per year for peak shaving purposes if it could save everyone up to eight percent on their electric bills? The environmental impact is estimated to be .4 tons of NOx emissions (BIPCO’s NOx emissions were 19.0 tons in 2016 when the generators were run full time.) Peak shaving is the process of reducing the amount of energy purchased from the regional grid during anticipated peak demand hours.”

The New Shoreham Town Council voted 3-1 at its Sept. 18 meeting to instruct the town’s designated voter, Sam Bird, to vote in favor of the peak shaving referendum on the BIUD election ballot. 

Of the yes vote for the ballot referendum, BIUD President Jeffery Wright said, “It is a reason to celebrate the Utility District’s democracy. I feel the results are a reality check that our rates are higher than normal due to the seasonal nature of Block Island, and that most are willing to take steps such as running the generators if it can reduce our costs. There are a few more boxes to check off before we move forward, but understating how the Utility District members feel about it is most important.”

Wright explained to The Block Island  Times the reason that the Utility District is considering peak shaving. 

“The Independent System Operators of New England sets a large portion of its rates based on each utility’s portion of the total northeast load when the aggregate load hits the annual peak,” he said. “Most utilities take whatever steps they have available to them to lower their demand when the ISO approaches that peak, such as running utility or customer owned generation and asking their customers to conserve energy.”