Among the topics the Hull Municipal Light Board discussed at its most recent meeting last month were the status of Hull Wind 1 and 2, the addition of a sixth townwide generator, the feasibility of installing electric car charging stations, feedback regarding higher electric bills, and a survey to predict town electrical usage.
Hull Wind 1 at Pemberton Point is inoperable and there has been “yet another failure” of Hull Wind 2, according to the plant manager. Most recently, another contactor failed, causing a fuse failure on Hull Wind 2 at the former town dump, taking that turbine out of service.
“The contractor replaced the fuse to get the turbine going and ordered another contactor to replace,” said, Light Plant Manager Panos Tokadjian.
“The turbine is fast approaching the state where Hull Wind 1 was a couple years ago before it failed, and we need to start discussing what we want to do with it,” he said in a memo to the Hull Municipal Light Board Commissioners.
Town Manager Philip Lemnios explained Vestas, the company that built the machines, has walked away from the Northeast and getting parts is more difficult.
“A determination needs to be made about whether it can be repurposed for cell tower use,” said Lemnios. “If it is determined to be technically feasible by the consultant, then we have to determine market interest and get town approval.”
According to the light plant, approval ratings for the generators that provide electricity when the town loses power as a whole are “very high.” In January, following the coldest day of the year, the decision was made to bring in a sixth generator; two issues contributed to that decision. First, the winter peak load during the coldest day of the year “grew from 9.2MW last year to 10.5MW this year, which would have meant the generators would not have carried the town if we had to run them in the event of a power outage,” Tokadjian said in his Feb. 22 memo. Secondly, the sixth generator was added for “reliability” in case one of the other generators had an issue. “Going forward, if the board decides to bring back the generators, we will have to account for a minimum of six units,” said Tokadjian.
The supplier provided the sixth generator at no cost for this season. Concurring with Tokadjian, Lemnios said “at a minimum, we should increase to six generators next year to accommodate for the increased load.
“We could always have seven generators next year if we raise the rates to accommodate,” he said. “In fact, I would recommend having seven generators in place next year and take no risk at all.”
Tokadjian agreed. “At the rate construction is going in town and increased electrification, the sixth generator won’t be enough, may have to go to seven,” he said.
“With all of these additional building projects coming into town, if more power is needed does the developer bear the cost?” resident David Irwin asked.
“We look at the plans and determine, based on the load information, what is needed there,” Tokadjian said. “If something needs to be added to the infrastructure, the developer is charged for that work, and they must pay up front.”
Irwin also asked if public electric car charging stations, where the user pays with a credit card, were being considered. Tokadjian said that his concern about outdoor public charging stations is “whether the equipment would survive a coastal front environment … if and when someone comes back saying it is working satisfactorily in other shore communities, I will bring it back for the board to look at.”
The board then transitioned to discussing home-based electric car charging stations, which are about 50 amps each. Electric car charging stations draw a lot of power, especially when the town is using the generators. Light board member Jacob Vaillancourt said there are incentive programs for free or reduced electric car chargers where the charger would be turned off if the town switched to generator power.
“The consumer can override the shutoff, but as a result, they forfeit the incentive program and would need to pay for the charger,” said Tokadjian.
Tokadjian shared there are other incentives, so residents do not use “heavy electricity” during peak times, such as implementing a “timed-use rate.” For example, usage from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. is one rate, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. is different rate.
“This would be a significant change in practice,” Lemnios said. “The burden of those types of policies falls hardest on the people who are the least able to adjust their lifestyle to get the cheapest rate.”
He added that despite an increase in the electric bill, customers feel things are “OK” because Hull Light rates are “cheaper than national grid, even with the surcharge for the generators.”
“There are data points we don’t have,” Light Commissioner Tom Burns said. “We could survey all 4,500 customers to see where we are with chargers, electric, oil, gas, and heat pumps.”
During the meeting, Burns proposed that the light department to start the selective process of data collection; the motion was accepted. Lemnios said that when an electric car charger is installed, it must be inspected, and the permit could be forwarded to the light department for information-gathering purposes.
“This can give a directional sense of where the load is going,” he said. “The light department can start collecting data immediately, going back three years with electrical permits.”
Vaillancourt agreed with Lemnios, this would be a good start, but stated “a yearly survey from the electric company can build a database to see what new peak loads are in summer and winter.” Anne Finley, administrative assistant at the light plant, said that new software the light plant is getting “has a survey built in and staff can change the questions to target their needs.”
Chair Pat Cannon said that when implementing the survey, the light plant should give a synopsis of the plan, letting the public know the survey is important because “we are trying to build for our future infrastructure.”
The next light board meeting on Thursday, March 30 will be a joint meeting between the Hull and Hingham municipal light departments to open the lines of communication and explore the benefits of potential joint opportunities to obtain grant money that is only available when two or more towns apply together.
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