The Block Island Times

Power company to convert streetlights to LED

By Renée Meyer | Dec 26, 2013

The Block Island Power Company (BIPCo) plans to convert the town’s streetlights over to LED (Light Emitting Diode) light bulbs starting in January.

BIPCo representatives Cliff McGinnes and Albert Casazza made this announcement at an Electric Utilities Task Group (EUTG) meeting on Dec. 16. They said they would not convert the lights all at once, but would replace them “as cash flow allows.”

This would save approximately $9,000 in electrical costs per year, according to the EUTG’s calculations, because LED bulbs are more energy efficient.

The EUTG has been discussing the possibility of this conversion for years in order to save money. BIPCo owns the town’s streetlights, and it charges the town a flat tariff for the maintenance and operation of the lights. The tariff does not change based on consumption — a reduction in energy use because of a switch to LEDs would not be reflected in what the town pays for use of the streetlights.

Therefore, the EUTG has also discussed the possibility of purchasing the streetlights from BIPCo to save money if less energy is used from LED streetlights.

Net metering

BIPCo also came to the EUTG with proposals for its net metering policy.

Net metering credits customers who produce energy with renewable energy systems (for example, privately-owned solar panels). BIPCo is exempt from R.I. Public Utilities Commission (PUC) requirements to provide net metering, but it does so voluntarily.

BIPCo reimburses customers with solar panels that produce more energy than they use. Systems producing more than 2.5 kW at each moment are not compensated.

Also, there is currently a cap on the aggregate number of solar systems allowed in this policy, set at 2 percent of peak usage.

Wind turbine installations are not net metered. While they do get compensated if they produce more energy than they use, the compensation is different than that of solar panels.

BIPCo made two new proposals.

The first, its preferred option, would be to allow all solar panels, even those producing 2.5 kW, to be net metered. However, the aggregate cap would remain at 2 percent.

The second proposal involves increasing the cap to 3 percent. This would include wind turbines in that calculation, allowing them to be net metered.

He added the town was already halfway to the 2 percent, and that by including wind turbines in the equation, it would reach 1.75 percent.

Warfel didn’t feel that either proposal made any regulatory sense, and that BIPCo was getting a lot of power for free in the off-season. However, Casazza said “it hardly seems fair that people who aren’t here in the winter are profiting from it.”

After much bantering back and forth, Casazza, clearly frustrated, said: “It’s our voluntary policy and we came as a matter of good faith and put two considerations out.”

EUTG Chair Barbara MacMullan said the “the question to us is, are these better or worse than what’s in place? It doesn’t mean it’s the right policy.” She did, however, say that she would “take a crack” at the numerical differences between the policies.

When asked by Casazza whether there would be a recommendation today, MacMullan replied “no recommendation today.”

At that point Casazza said he would prefer to keep the maximum at 2 percent of peak for renewal and that “you can study it and make policy recommendations to the Town Council.”

Solar RFPs

The EUTG discussed the evaluation of solar RFPs (request for proposal), which the town has considered issuing to install its own solar system. MacMullan said the Town Council had asked the group to determine who would be the proper person to evaluate a draft of a solar RFP.

EUTG member Everett Shorey said that he would find out what other municipalities did.

First Warden Kim Gaffett, who attended the meeting, while noting the probable coming of Deepwater’s electrical cable from the mainland, asked: “does it make sense to put it out at this point?”

Town Councilor Chris Warfel said the “RFP gets really tricky when the net metering policy is not resolved.”

Deepwater update

At the EUTG meeting, task group members also heard an update from Bryan Wilson on the status of the Deepwater Wind project.

EUTG member Bill Penn, speaking about the DEM hearing in Narragansett last week, expressed concern about what he categorized as misstatements made at the meeting by some in the audience who seemed opposed to the Deepwater project. One of those comments was that the laying of the cable under the ocean floor would cause “vast” amounts of methane gas to be released. He felt that those misstatements needed to be refuted. He questioned whether the EUTG should suggest comments for the Town Council to make.

Task group member John Warfel thought that “was out of our purview” and others agreed. Chair Barbara MacMullan didn’t think that responding was the role of the EUTG, and Everett Shorey said, “We have to be careful.”

Chris Warfel, who attended the meeting, said, “Some comments are absurd on both sides.” He also thought that Block Island residents left an impression that was not favorable and may have created a public relations problem with Narragansett.

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