Princeton Municipal Light Department Manager Brian Allen asked that his three-page letter in response to a proposal by selectman Jon Fudeman to allow the town to have more control over the light department be read into the record at the Jan. 9 selectmen’s meeting.
Allen was responding to three warrant articles for the annual town meeting in May that selectman Fudeman had proposed at the previous selectmen’s meeting.
Fudeman wanted more say regarding the borrowing by the light department and for the advisory committee to be able to weigh in on PMLD’s budget.
“Three people committed the town to $9 million for the windmills,” said Fudeman. “I wanted to make sure a couple of people can’t commit the town to a big expenditure.”
“There is autonomy, like it or not, for the PMLD for a very good reason,” said Allen. “Politics have no business in the running of a company.”
In his letter to the board Allen said that Fudeman’s proposed warrant articles involve the light department to some degree. “I do not believe that what you desire or propose is legal. The independent operation and management of municipal light plants has been explicitly and unequivocally expressed by the Massachusetts Supreme Court on several occasions. The Court has consistently ruled that the state legislature has vested exclusive managerial authority in the light commission and manager and this authority is not subject to change by other public officials,” said Allen.
By virtue of that authority the commissioners and managers are duly and fully empowered to determine what should be expended and the manner in which it should be expended for the efficient operation of the business and to meet the expenses of the plant, said Allen.
He encouraged the board to read the 11-page memorandum he submitted from attorneys Rubin and Rudman, dated May 12, 1992, regarding the fiscal and managerial autonomy of the PMLD in response to a proposal then to place “control” of the light board under the board of selectmen.
That memo stated the provisions of General Law, Chapter 164 and department of public utility policy make it clear that management of PMLD is vested exclusively in its light board and manager. He noted that the finance committee in Sterling has nothing to do with the light department there.
“I cannot and will not make excuses for capital projects that did not meet the projections of industry experts and the expectations of today’s public officials,” said Allen. “The fact is, if energy prices were high as originally projected, the town by-and-large would be singing the praises of PMLD and not looking for ways to ‘control’ us.”
Allen said for the past five years he has worked closely with the commissioners with full-disclosure and transparency to successfully refinance the wind turbine debt from 5.5 percent interest to 1.75 percent, invest in the infrastructure, build the reserve accounts, develop a detailed budget that is reviewed each month by commissioners, and balance the budget.
“I have stayed focused on my original mission, which was and still is, to remain true to the core business of providing reliable electric service to the residents of Princeton for the lowest price possible,” said Allen.
Allen said that in 2008, before the wind turbines were in place, the rate was $0.1923 per kilowatt hour. Today ratepayers pay $0.1975 per kilowatt hour. The additional $0.05 per kilowatt hour that makes up the current $0.2475 rate is allocated to pay the wind farm debt and operation, he said.
Allen said that National Grid, as of Jan. 2017, has a rate of approximately $0.20 per kilowatt hour. When the wind farm debt is paid in full in 2026, the electric rate and ratepayer will see a change and PMLD will be competitive with other municipal departments throughout the Commonwealth, said Allen. “In December light commissioners and I locked in the 2017 budget that allows us to avoid a rate increase at this time,” he added.
Allen said the law allows municipal light plants to borrow through co-ops, as well as pool programs, approved by the legislature. He noted that all PMLD board meetings are open to the public, and he has an open-door policy and will provide access to financial records to anyone who asks for them. A copy of PMLD’s audit is provided every year to town officials.
“I along with the board have made every effort to repair the damage done to our financial picture and believe we have succeeded in doing so. I think it is unreasonable that there seems to be a constant harassment of PMLD for past managerial errors or methods, and I would like it to end now,” said Allen.
Light Commission Chairman Jim Whitman noted that the wind farm is generating income towards the debt which effectively lowers the impact on the town. “We are the second highest user of green energy in Massachusetts,” said Whitman. The selling point for the wind farm was the town would be green and green energy costs more money, he added. “The town has always had a commitment to green energy,” he said.
Whitman said it was time for the board to trust in the information provided by PMLD and acknowledge that the team of professionals managing PMLD today is not the same players of the past.
Fudeman said that if PMLD is separate there was no point in pursuing his proposed article but he is still interested in the other two – that the advisory committee not be appointed by selectmen, and that they have more financial responsibility to look at all financial interests, perhaps by becoming a finance committee rather than an advisory committee.
He noted that the auditor’s management letter points out errors that persisted for years and the advisory committee was not aware of this.
It seems the advisory committee has all that authority now, said select board chairman Stan Moss.
“We spent 10 hours goal setting,” said selectman Edith Morgan. “If we’re going to get anything done we have to focus on our goals, we can’t be jumping here and there and everywhere and being disorganized and not getting anything done so that we are ineffective.”
“If you don’t want the warrant articles, fine,” said Fudeman. “It only takes 10 signatures to get an article on the town meeting warrant.”
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