Chilmark selectmen hear Eversource grid modernization plan

The company filed its five-year, $496 million plan in August 2015.

0
Maggie Downey, Cape Light Compact administrator, presents to selectmen on Eversource's grid modernization plan. -Edie Prescot

Chilmark selectmen Tuesday evening heard a 30-minute presentation by Cape Light Compact administrator Maggie Downey, who plowed through a slide presentation in high-speed fashion in an effort to answer the question of whether the Eversource $496 million grid modernization plan (GMP) would lay the foundation for the area’s energy future.

It was all about consumers being able to manage their usage and demand, and for them to be incentivized to contribute to reducing costs and to help stabilize the grid, she said.

Cape Light Compact is an energy-services organization operated by the 21 towns and two counties on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. It acts as a consumer advocate, and in this case as an intervenor. Ms. Downey said that National Grid also filed about a $1 billion GMP, and said they believe their plan is for “the utility of the future.”

“Do we want to continue to interact with our utility only once a month in the form of a bill?” asked Ms. Downey.

The electric grid was described as an “infrastructure network designed to deliver electricity from suppliers to end users.” Ms. Downey explained that the grid was “designed in an era when this simply meant delivering power from large, centralized generating plants to customers’ homes and businesses.”

“Grid modernization,” said Ms. Downey, “is the process by which digital intelligence is incorporated into our electric power grid to allow power to flow in two directions — to and from the consumer — transforming it into an interactive delivery network.”

This modernization is being done in many states across the United States.

Eversource is considered an electric distribution company (EDC), and this is the first time that the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) has “mandated that EDCs like Eversource modernize our antiquated grid,” according to Ms. Downey.

Ms. Downey explained the DPU outlined four primary goals for grid modernization of all Massachusetts utilities: Reduce effects of outages, optimize demand, integrate distributed-energy resources (like solar), and improve workforce and asset management.

The DPU has also mandated that advanced metering functionality (AMF) be used within five years of the plan’s approval. AMF, or “smart metering,” includes “a collection of customers’ interval-usage data, in near real time, automated outage and restoration notification, two-way communication between customers and the utility, and communication with and control of household appliances,” according to Ms. Downey.

As this modernization relies on cellular service, Ms. Downey expressed concern over the cell service being “not great in Martha’s Vineyard and the Outer Cape.” She also explained that a huge part of the GMP involves the upgrade of underground systems, but that there are no underground systems outside of the Route 128 corridor.

“We will be paying for things and infrastructure that we don’t get on the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard,” Ms. Downey said.

One attendee asked Ms. Downey to explain the smart grid and “the need for cellular.”

“They [Eversource] will install a smart meter if you want it, but you have to stay on it for a year, you have to be on their supplies, and it’s not going to work through their infrastructure, it’s going to work with cellular connection, so you have to pay cellular charges on your bill,” said Ms. Downey.

“It’s very curious to me; why would it only be available via cellular service or an app on your smartphone as opposed to your wired Internet?” asked retired Tufts sustainable energy professor and Chilmark resident Rob Hannemann.

“We’re asking those very same questions, and we don’t have an answer yet,” said Ms. Downey.

Ms. Downey said that “Massachusetts is not leading the curve,” and that “across the U.S., there are about 60 million smart meters already installed.” Baltimore Gas and Electric began installing smart meters in 2012.

Ms. Downey encouraged everyone to take the Cape Light Compact grid modernization survey at surveymonkey.com/r/gridmodsurvey.

New school gutters

In other news, Chilmark School principal Susan Stevens was on hand to inform selectmen of the school’s need to upgrade the outdoor gutters. She explained they are 4 inches wide rather than the recommended 6 inches, and that “they are not holding water because they are too small.” Ms. Stevens said the current gutters are lead-coated copper, which could be a potential danger, and also that she has had trouble finding people willing to work with such material.

Ms. Stevens suggested doing a test in a rear (nonvisible) part of the school that currently has no gutter, to see if people like it, and later the system can be expanded.

Ms. Stevens said she has the money in her budget to install the small test area with aluminum gutters and Azek background, but not lead-coated copper gutters, which are very expensive. Selectmen want to hear from Susan Murphy of the finance committee before responding to Ms. Stevens with their opinion.

Also, shellfish constable Isaiah Scheffer and Amandine Hall of the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group were also on hand to ask permission to farm kelp, which would allow oyster growers to diversify their crop in winter. A kelp nursery was previously tested at the Oak Bluffs lobster hatchery, and the second year “did well.” A 50-foot “continuous line” about six feet underwater is required, which selectmen worry may affect navigation safety. Selectmen approved this aquaculture project on the condition that the harbormaster and the shellfish warden are in agreement. This project would not affect the scallop season, according to Mr. Scheffer.

Mr. Scheffer also said the commercial scallop season will open Nov. 21, and he highly recommended closing Tisbury Great Pond for the winter, giving no commercial oyster season this year. “I think we should leave Tisbury Great Pond alone,” said Mr. Scheffer. Selectmen approved both suggestions.

Selectmen also voted to hold the fall special town meeting on Dec. 5, rather than in November, as they feel the five current warrant articles are not “time sensitive,” and they are hopeful to receive Menemsha plans from the Chilmark planning board by Nov. 9 so voters can kick off the Menemsha upgrade in time for next season. The Dec. 5 date is contingent on the availability of the moderator and town council.

Last, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has rehired the previous contractor, J-Way Southern, to start up the Menemsha Channel dredging project again this fall. Selectmen were told an additional person will be onsite, rather than a supervisor visiting. “I have no confidence in this group whatsoever,” said selectman James Malkin.