Jim Whitman, chairman of the Princeton Light Commission told selectmen at their Nov. 30 meeting that PMLD has a fixed 10-year contract for its energy.
“We’re in the second year. For the next eight years plus, we have a guaranteed rate for out electricity,” said Whitman.
Commissioners were invited to the selectmen’s meeting to give the board an overview of what is going on at PMLD.
“All departments and committees have been invited to tell us where they’re at at this point,” said selectman Stan Moss.
Whitman said there were four building blocks of power generation and distribution in New England, gas, nuclear, coal, oil, renewable (wind & solar), then there is capacity, transmission lines and a local distribution networks such as PMLD, said Whitman.
“All come together through ISO New England, a non-profit organization that manages the generation of power and how it’s distributed. There has to be enough generated to meet the need,” he said. “When you are generating renewal energy such as solar and the sun goes down, you need something to replace that energy. It’s the same with wind, when the wind isn’t blowing you need a capacity standby to take up the energy supply.
“In some cases capacity costs more than generating costs. Capacity is a wild card right now and is becoming more of what we have to pay for,” he added. “When we put up the first wind farm in 1984 people recognized it would cost more for electricity. At the end of the life of the first windmills, votes were asked whether they supported putting up two large wind turbines and that idea was strongly supported. It was a sound financial calculation, but then fracking came along.”
Overall, the wind turbines aren’t producing what was initially forecast but on some days Princeton is running solely by wind power, said Whitman.
“One big issue since December of last year is we began being penalized when we overproduce,” said PMLD Manager Brian Allen. “So if the wind is blowing between midnight and 4 a.m. we get negative pricing. We produced 289,000 kilowatts in four days and it costs us $1,000. That new rule went in on Dec. 4 last year. Now, MMWEC calls us and we shut the wind turbines down when we are over producing. That same concept could be true with solar. We have no industry in Princeton so there’s no place for the energy to go.”
In addition to the guaranteed rate for eight more years, Whitman said this will also prevent spikes.
“We buy from NextEra and also bought a five-year contract for capacity with an option to extend it for five years. Capacity is a big unknown. NextEra is the largest manufacturer of wind and solar in the United States,” he said.
“How did you get so fortunate to get a 10-year contract?” asked select board chairman Edith Morgan.
“I found NextEra, told Brian, and he did a tremendous job for this light department. It’s his hard work that got NextEra as a partner,” Whitman said. “We’re aware and responsive to changes in the electrical industry. The state approved a vegetative management plan and tree removal policy which PMLD is using and we have state of the art systems to control most issues related to the wind farm from Brian’s computer.
“With vegetative management control system in place we’ve reduced line losses from 16 percent to 6 percent, saving everyone money,” he added. “We’ve reduced the crew size from four to three and we got an outside contractor to do the tree trimming, revamped the billing system and have a 24/7 backup for billing records, do an annual budget review and analysis and a five year plan is audited every year, maintained all OSHA and industry certifications and safety standards for equipment and line personnel.”
Whitman noted the “very good communication” between the board and office staff. He said the PMLD offers services to the town including, tree removal, utility relocations, and use of the bucket truck when requested, absorbing the cost of home energy audits, put the Memorial Day holiday flags in place, the wreaths and lighting of the common at Christmas, safety classes at Thomas Prince School, and work with the cemetery committee, DPW and Parks and Rec.
“We’re interested in taking PMLD to the next level and Brian’s done an incredible job as manager,” said Whitman.
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