There’s been a lot of controversy over the openness, responsiveness, record keeping, finances and governance of two Cape public entities: the Cape Light Compact and Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative, but at a July 11, forum much of the concern was whether CLC is fulfilling its original mission – to trim the electric bills of Cape Codders.
Brewster Citizens for Responsible Energy sponsored the forum at the Brewster Ladies’ Library and it drew several town officials as well as civilians.
The Compact was founded in 1997 as a “municipal aggregator” of electricity by Barnstable County with each town having representation on its board. They’re funded by a surcharge on consumer’s electric bills and handle about $20-million dollars a year. Most of that money goes to free energy audits for homes and businesses and financial aid on energy conservation.
Consumers can also opt to purchase electricity through the Compact. Their current price is currently 6.688 cents per kilowatt-hour for residents and 6.676 cents for commercial properties. The power comes from ConEd Solutions. They also offer a green power package, which is pricier at over 8 cents per KWH. ConEd gave the Compact a $520,000 grant in 2007 and Mike Fitzgerald of the Brewster Finance Committee noted they are the sole supplier of power to the Compact.
NStar is charging 6.702 cents per kwhr, National Grid 6.718 cents per kwh and Dominion around 7 cents to NStar cusomers.
“Part of CLC’s charge is to put 180,000 people into a co-op and negotiate rates that are most beneficial to that group and it has not always done a lot better than the NStar rate,” Fitzgerald said. “The July bill will drop to 6.8 cents because the cost of natural gas has dropped. That’s one area I have concerns. I find it interesting that the same supplier gets the contract every time. There are a lot of suppliers out there in a very competitive market.”
It’s the same supplier that gave the Compact a big grant and Fitzgerald would like to see more information about competitive rates and what other suppliers might be engaged.
“The Cape Light Compact is not very focused on that aspect of their charge,” he observed.
“Most of the time the CLC rate has been lower and more stable,” Brewster selectman John Dickson said.
“Since 200 if you run the CLC vs. NSTar the compact has collectively cost residential consumers $30-million dollars,” countered Chris Powicki of Brewster’s energy Committee. “Going forward has the compact changed procedures so procurement failure can’t happen?”
The Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative was formed in 2005 by the county, CLC and eventually 17 member towns and Dukes County. Their goal was to aid in producing renewable energy projects and reducing the electric bills of towns. The most visible outcome has been several solar energy projects that are complete and many more on the drawing table. CVEC has also worked on a number of municipal wind turbine proposals (Brewster, Orleans, Wellfleet, Harwich) that came to naught. The turbine destined for Orleans wound up as (town-owned) Falmouth 1 when the Orleans Water commissioners declined build it in the watershed.
A recent report by a Barnstable Assembly of Delegates subcommittee criticized both groups for a lack of transparency with citizens and opaque financial record keeping.
“We asked for minutes and did not get the minutes. We asked for the total budget and did not get the total budget,” recalled Joyce McConnell said. “If you follow the guidelines of open meeting law there will be minutes.”
CVEC and CLC blasted the report but the Assembly did vote for a more extensive audit of CLC.
“The executives of CVEC and CLC issued reports and said we investigated ourselves and we’re okay. That’s not very soothing,” said David Ferrarini. “Unless this interests an agency with subpoena powers the prospect of shedding light on all the unanswered questions is very bleak.”
The member towns ultimately govern both groups and Powicki noted the interest of towns and consumers are not always the same.
“Are they serving the rate payers or serving the members? They serve the members and the members are the towns,” said Selectman James Foley.
The goal of the turbines and solar projects is to cut town electric bills, not the bills of consumers.
“If the towns save money it’s reflected in your taxes,” Foley added. “So there are indirect savings for the home owner.”
“One part of the solution is for each town, through the board of selectmen, to have a conversation with their representatives (to CVEC and CLC),” remarked Mitch Relin, president of Brewster Citizens for Responsible Energy. “It is the member towns and their representatives that are charged with formulating policies and having input – so I saw this as a beginning.”
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