We need to get each of the Selectmen a flashlight, maybe two. At the last BOS meeting, we got another dose of in-depth analysis of town affairs in a quick blow-off of recent serious, factual citizen inquiries about our municipal electric company.
Recently, the deregulation and unbundling of statewide electric utilities has finally delivered on it’s free market promise of competition driving down rates. The state utilities: Public Service; Unitil; NH Electric Co-op; no longer are in the power production business. They are simply the agents that maintain the local power networks in their consumer’s towns. Customers can accept the spot priced power obtained by the utility, or they can buy their power on the competitive open contract market.
Competition has been heating up, and with statewide advertising campaigns, Wolfeboro citizens are asking why our electric power costs nearly twice as much as the power offered in the solicitations. Apparently the town received a lot of inquiries, because they posted this on the town website. Basically they say that the town’s rates are competitive and that the town operates outside of the purview of the state Public Utility Commission. These outside providers were offering generation rates of 7½¢ per Kwh. The town has been charging 12½¢ for the past few years. That amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to Wolfeboro households.
A few years ago, the Municipal Electric Department improperly installed a new meter at the new Huggins Hospital. A year later someone realized that the hospital had used half a million dollars worth of power that they weren’t billed for. The hospital apparently didn’t notice it either, and had to go on a payment plan to catch up. Not a word about it was ever mentioned at a Selectmen’s meeting. Apparently our management of the business is so sloppy that half a million dollars worth of electricity can be lost, with the revenue from the rest of the customers picking up the slack. (And the hospital’s accounting is just as bad that they don’t notice their power budget is way off, you’d think they would pick up the phone, hmmmm…)
When the 2014-2016 power contract was negotiated a few months ago, the town manager was circumspect when he cautioned that we might see as much as a cent or two reduction. Last week he said it would be more like three cents. So I’m guessing that the town is feeling some pressure to be more competitive.
So what did the Selectmen have to say? Sarah Silk seems to think that it all boils down to service response time. She feels that Wolfeboro’s response time of 45 minutes vs the Coop’s 5 hours “says it all”.
Reasonable citizens are asking reasonable questions about the town’s electric department. Is it possible to continue to maintain the MED but allow citizens to contract for power on the open market? Does it make sense to continue with the tradition of bulk power purchase every three years in a world that has radical energy shifts every six months? Would we all benefit from smart metering that allows us to make choices about when and how we consume energy? How about a public forum, say every twenty years or so, to see if it all still makes sense?
Sarah thinks the only question we should concern ourselves with is whether the lights stay on in the next snowstorm. Don’t worry your stupid little head about it.