Town voting in favor of “peak shaving” referendum

On Block Island Utility District ballot
Thu, 09/19/2019 - 7:45pm

The New Shoreham Town Council voted (3-1) to instruct town Facilities Manager Sam Bird to cast the town’s vote in favor of the Block Island Utility District’s ballot referendum. By casting the vote, Bird is acting as the official designated voter to represent the town.

The Town Council also voted unanimously to have Bird cast the town’s vote for each of the two candidates running for seats on BIUD’s Board of Utility Commissioners. 

Councilor Chris Willi made the motion to support the referendum that was seconded by Councilor Sven Risom. First Warden Ken Lacoste dissented. Second Warden André Boudreau was absent from the meeting.

The ballot referendum states: “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.

During a discussion with Councilor Chris Willi, who felt Town Manager Ed Roberge should be the town’s designated voter, Lacoste noted that the Town Council had erred in including the ballot item on its agenda.

Willi asked why the Town Manager was not the town’s designated voter, to which Lacoste said Roberge had not been appointed to office when Bird was designated as the town’s designated voter.

“I would think that the Town Manager would be the designated voter for the town,” said Risom.

“That’s what I’m getting at,” said Willi.

Town Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick said that Bird was the one on record as the town’s designated voter.

“We should change it moving forward to the Town Manager,” said Willi.

Risom then brought up the question of the Town Council discussing the ballot in open session and its impact on public opinion, which he felt their decision could “sway.”

“What’s the concern? We’re elected officials?” asked Willi.

“Because the act of casting a ballot is supposed to be private, and to be kept confidential,” noted Lacoste.

“Then why is this on the agenda?” asked Willi.

“That was a mistake,” said Lacoste, who is responsible for drafting the agenda.

“Yes, exactly. So now what do we do?” asked Willi. “It’s on the agenda. Now we’re saying, ‘I’m sorry guys, we can’t talk about it.’”

“Yep,” said Lacoste.

Resident David Lewis said, “I don’t know why you shouldn’t take public positions on it. This is not earth shaking. This is a financial matter. It’s also an environmental matter. They are two things, which are in conflict on this particular question. And it’s not unreasonable that you take positions. You take public positions every day when you vote in open session.”

“On both issues?” asked Lacoste, referring to the ballot.

“On the referendum specifically,” said Lewis, who noted that the vote for a commissioner could remain confidential so as “not to offend anyone.”

The Town Council briefly discussed the referendum, with Councilor Martha Ball, Risom and Willi noting their support.

Risom said he was “environmentally conscious,” but felt that peak shaving would be beneficial to BIUD’s operation. Ball said she agreed with Risom.

“I’m on the same page” with running the generators for the purpose of peak shaving, said Willi.

“Well, I’m not,” said Lacoste, who noted that the diesel generators should only be operated for emergency or maintenance purposes. “I don’t think we should run the generators. I think a lot of savings are being had by the management of the Utility District and the power company.”

Lacoste said “on the basis of principal” the diesel generators should not be run for peak shaving purposes.

The BIUD ballot calls for a vote for Mary Jane Balser and Eliott Taubman to BIUD’s Board of Commissioners, as well as the peak shaving referendum question. Instructions on the ballot notes that the completed ballot should be sealed and returned to the board clerk at 100 Ocean Avenue by 4 p.m. on Sept. 30.