Utility Board juggles projects

Sat, 01/25/2020 - 2:00pm
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The Block Island Utility District continues to move forward advancing in-progress projects and considering some entirely new ones. At the Board of Commissioners meeting on Thursday, Jan. 16, there was certainly a lot to discuss.

Ongoing matters included giving the go-ahead to get PUC approval for long term debt for the purchase of a spare transformer for the substation and the construction of a residence for Block Island Power Company President Jeffery Wright on the vacant lot at the corner of Beach and Ocean Avenues. Wright said that 90 percent of the debt service for the housing would be paid for by the rent he would pay, in the proposed amount of $1800 per month.

The commissioners also approved final revisions to a new lease for Hull Suburban Propane, which has been a tenant on the Block Island Power Company’s property for many years, but whose initial lease ran out approximately 10 years ago.

Under the old lease, Hull Suburban, owned by Peter McNerney, occupied office space in BIPCo’s office building, along with an area in the back of the property. Under the new agreement, McNerney will give up its office space and utilize a fenced in area in the back where he hopes to erect a shed. An electric meter will be installed, and McNerny will be responsible for all permitting and compliance issues involving the state Fire Marshal’s office.

Utility District Chair Barbara MacMullan asked if permitting from the Department of Environmental Management was required.

Wright said that the area was not within the wetlands buffer area.

BIPCo will be involved with the DEM though for a new project — cleaning up the front part of the property, just inside and to the left of the gate, where an old gas station used to be. Wright said that when the underground tank removal project was conducted, a woman from the DEM “was assertive” about cleaning up the rest of the property.

Wright hopes the project, which is projected to cost $700,000 and will largely be paid for by the DEM, will start next fall. “It’s mitigating benzene from the gas station,” said Wright, and about 100 truckloads of dirt will be removed.

Resident David Lewis, harkening back to the environmental analysis done at the time when the Town of New Shoreham was exploring whether or not to buy two-thirds of the stock of BIPCo, asked: “Was this a surprise?”

Wright, who was not an employee of BIPCo at the time of the stock acquisition, which was narrowly approved by voters by a margin of two votes, said: “The surprise was that the state is willing to pay for it.” He said the removed dirt would be replaced with clean fill. “The good news is, we’re in a position to clean it up.”

There may be financial assistance for a few other projects as well. Wright reported that the Block Island Solar Initiative has offered to pay for the installation of a rooftop solar system “with the stipulation that any revenue generated from the system be assigned to a restricted account and used for capital system upgrades.” The power generated would flow into the system and lessen the amount currently procured from Shell National, at an anticipated savings of $25,000 per year. Wright said an agreement is being drafted that could be considered at the Utility District’s meeting in February.

Yet another project Wright is working on involves the procurement of a utility scale battery storage system. He has been in talks with New England Battery Storage, LLC, which is in the process of installing a similar system for the Pascoag Utility District.

In his written President’s Report, Wright says: “Their business model eliminates any risk to the host utility as NEBS, LLC would install, own, maintain and operate the entire system. There is no capital investment required of the host company. The way they recover their money is by sharing the cost savings from monthly and annual peak reduction which reduces transmission and capacity costs.”

Utility District ratepayers approved a non-binding referendum last fall to run the diesel generators during an anticipated New England-wide peak in order to reduce BIPCo’s annual capacity charge. Wright said the 53-foot battery units are self-contained, and BIPCo would require two of them. “There are a lot of possibilities,” said Wright.

Utility District Treasurer Bill Penn, who opposed running the diesel generators on environmental grounds, said: “Here is an alternative.”

“It doesn’t replace running the generators, but will complement it,” said Wright.

Wright and the Utility District are moving along with changes to the net metering policy. For those interested, the proposed policy (and other documents) can be fully accessed through BIPCo’s new website. Before the new policy can be submitted to the R.I. Public Utilities Commission, there need to be some changes to the current state laws that restrict net metering to three percent of a utility’s peak usage, a maximum that Block Island has already met.

Wright has plans for a conference call with BIPCo’s attorney for such matters, Michael McElroy, and Cindy Wilson-Frias of the PUC on the proposed legislative language changes, which, as proposed, would only apply to Pascoag and Block Island.

As for the language of the actual net metering policy, MacMullan said she would like to defer the discussion until February, as both commissioners Mary Jane Balser and Everett Shorey were not able to attend the meeting.

In setting the 2020 calendar of Board of Commissioners meetings, MacMullan noted that the meetings, which usually take place on Tuesdays, were not a good fit because of the ferry boat schedules.

“Saturdays would attract more ratepayers,” said Penn.

Commissioner Elliot Taubman, on the proposed time of 10 a.m. said there were too many other things taking place at that time.

After more discussion, it was decided that future meetings would generally take place on Saturdays at 1 p.m.