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Off the grid, but on the ballot

Do you believe that all members of the soon-to-be-elected Block Island Utility Commission should be ratepayers?

When I attended last September’s special Financial Town Meeting on the purchase of BIPCo, one of the selling points was that the ratepayers would make the decisions and control it, not the town. But first the town had to prepare legislation for the formation of a utility district that must be passed by the state legislature.

So when our ratepayer ballot arrived, I was surprised to read that non-ratepayer, Barbara MacMullan, was a candidate. It is public knowledge that she has been “off the grid” for years and is not a BIPCo customer. I attended the candidates’ forum only to find out that the 12-page town-authored legislation included language that would allow a ratepayer to assign voting rights to another individual. This loophole could technically allow all five board members to be non-ratepayers. I do not believe that ratepayers were made aware of this loophole and would not have supported this if asked.

I wrongfully assumed that Ms. MacMullan’s employer had assigned its vote to her, but I was mistaken. I was surprised to learn that it was First Warden Ken Lacoste who did so. There is no professional relationship in this instance that might justify this designation. This sleight of hand may be legal, but feels like “gaming the election,” a maneuver to allow a favored non-ratepayer to have decision making authority as a board member over the utility.

Candidates MacMullan, Bill Penn, and Everett Shorey have been the core members of the Electricity Utility Task Group (EUTG) for over eight years. During that time I attended many of their meetings and carefully followed their agendas. It was evident that their blind, unconditional support for Deepwater Wind going forward took precedence. Here are six clear indicators of why I believe the people were not served well:

They promised major reductions in electricity costs up to 40 percent. Take a look at your July 2017 bill. It’s about the same as July 2016.

They did not encourage/recommend to the Council to negotiate for the following: free electricity; long overdue, well documented, at least $4 million upgrade to the distribution system; appropriate remuneration for the access at Town Beach that was at least commensurate with what Deepwater Wind offered to Narragansett.; a multi-million dollar contribution for Phase 1 of broadband that would connect our community facilities such as Town Hall, the School, the Medical Center and the Library.

They led people to believe that Block Island would be “green,” running totally on electricity from the Wind Farm. That is not the case. The electricity from the Wind Farm flows to a substation on the Island and then it flows from the substation to the mainland via the cable. National Grid is paying Deepwater Wind 24.4 cents per kwH, initially. The Island is receiving its electricity from the mainland through the same cable at a purchase price of 3.5 cents per kw from Shell Energy via the ISO.

I believe these are substantive issues that profoundly demonstrate that it is time for a change.

There will be plenty of opportunities for interested, non-ratepayers such as MacMullan, and ratepayers such as Penn and Shorey to provide input and participate in other ways and in other settings.

We have a very capable administrator in Jeffery Wright who has current and pertinent experience to move the new utility district forward. We need to support him in this endeavor by voting for candidates that will put the ratepayers first.

Rosemarie Ives

Mohegan Trail