The Block Island Times

EUTG: Negotiate with BIPCo on net metering

By Stephanie Turaj | Sep 24, 2013

The Electric Utilities Task Group (EUTG) voted 4-0 to recommend that the Town Council negotiate with the Block Island Power Company (BIPCo) to ask the power company to follow Rhode Island regulations on net metering.

Net metering is a policy that credits customers that produce energy (for example, privately-owned solar panels). Currently, BIPCo is exempt from net metering regulations set by the R.I. Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The company does, however, voluntarily provide net metering. BIPCo reimburses customers that produce up to 2.5 kW (kilowatt) of energy for their own electrical systems.

Instead, the EUTG would like BIPCo to reimburse renewable energy customers that produce up to 5 kW of energy — which is the same as state regulations.

In addition, there is confusion about whether or not BIPCo is legally exempt from state regulation. Letters reviewed by the EUTG at its Sept. 16 meeting claimed that BIPCo is exempt, while other letters countered this claim. The letters were written by attorneys and other interested parties, including a member of the PUC’s Division of Public Utilities and Carriers.

“We’re getting all sorts of information that’s conflicting,” said EUTG member Bill Penn.

“It might be counter-productive to look further into legal counsels,” said EUTG member John Warfel, and other members agreed.

Instead, members said it might be more productive to negotiate with BIPCo.

Deepwater cable

EUTG members reviewed a letter from island resident Michael Beauregard about the possibility of the town receiving an underwater cable even if the Deepwater Wind project does not go forward.

An underwater cable to the island has always been considered as part of Deepwater Wind’s plan to install a five-turbine wind farm off the coast of Block Island.

In Beauregard’s letter of Aug. 14, he claims that Block Island could possibly get a cable even if the Block Island wind farm project does not happen. He said in the letter, “If Deepwater Wind abandons construction of the Block Island Wind Farm and focuses on its planned utility scale wind farm on the outer continental shelf, Block Island will still get a power cable connection to the mainland.”

EUTG members discussed this claim and came to the conclusion that the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has considered a “socialized cable” (a cable paid for by mainland power residents) to Block Island in the past, but ultimately had put this discussion on hold in lieu of the Deepwater plan.

However, EUTG members also noted that there are two new members on the PUC: member Herbert F. DeSimone, Jr. and Chair Meg Curran were both appointed in June.

“Two of three committee members have changed,” said EUTG member Everett Shorey. “Their positions [on the cable] could be different.”

The EUTG agreed to recommend to the Town Council that the council ask the PUC about its position on a cable that would be separate from the Deepwater wind farm.

LED street lighting

The EUTG continued its ongoing discussion about whether it should purchase Block Island’s streetlights from BIPCo, which currently owns and operates the streetlights, and convert the lights to a more efficient LED (light emitting diode) technology.

Shorey noted that the EUTG should look at “what it would cost to maintain the streetlights.”

“Maintenance is the main issue for the town,” said BIPCo co-owner Cliff McGinnes, Sr. McGinnes also noted that a new state law would make it easy for the town to take ownership of the streetlights.

The Municipal Streetlight Investment Act, signed into Rhode Island law by Gov. Lincoln Chafee in July of 2013, establishes a procedure that allows towns to purchase their streetlights for the purpose of reducing municipal street lighting costs.

BIPCo finances and other matters

Shorey reported that the financial statements for BIPCo’s fiscal year 2012 (May 2011 through May 2012) are public. Shorey said that the financials are “nothing unusual.” Chair Barbara MacMullan noted that fuel costs BIPCo charges to its customers continue to rise. “Our costs continue to escalate above inflation,” she said.

The EUTG also discussed BIPCo’s plans to convert its fuel from diesel to liquified natural gas (LNG). McGinnes said that the company plans to use all liquified natural gas, and plans to purchase a new generator engine to do so.

In the past, Clear Energy, the company that would provide the LNG, said this switch would save the power company about $300,000 to $500,000 annually — savings that would then be passed on to the power company customers. But at the Sept. 16 meeting, McGinnes noted that costs to buy a new engine might affect these savings. The EUTG said that in order for it to take an official position on the LNG proposal, it needs to know all of the details, including the cost savings.

Also discussed at the meeting was an analysis of BIPCo’s emissions. Town Councilor Chris Warfel has asked the EUTG to look into this, explaining that he felt that Department of Environmental Management (DEM) calculations are incorrect. The EUTG agreed to draft a letter to be sent to the DEM.

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