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Danvers receives $8.4 M federal grant

By Cathryn Keefe O’Hare/cohare@cnc.com
Thu Oct 29, 2009

Danvers - Danvers will receive $8.4 million in federal stimulus money to help fund a $16 million upgrade of its municipal electric grid, Town Manager Wayne Marquis said Tuesday evening.

“We’ve had some wonderful news,” he said enthusiastically about the Smart Grid Investment Grant Award that the town applied for some months ago without any definite idea of when the awards would be made. “We had not idea it was coming now,” he added.

President Barack Obama announced on Tuesday a total of $3.4 billion in awards across the country, including the allotment to Danvers of $8,476,800. (See the government press release and specific awards at

According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy, the Smart Grid Investment Grant Awards “will create tens of thousands of jobs, and consumers in 49 states will benefit from these investments in a stronger, more reliable grid.”

Massachusetts senators John Kerry and Paul Kirk were quick to issue a press release praising the president for awarding grants to three Massachusetts towns and three Massachusetts companies, which include, besides Danvers Electric, Marblehead Municipal Light ($1.3 million), West Tisbury’s Vineyard Energy Project ($787,000), Honeywell International in Danvers ($11.4 million), NSTAR Electric in Norfolk ($10 million) and ISO New England in Holyoke ($3.7 million).

“These investments will make our electricity delivery system more efficient, give us more control over power surges and reduce the amount of energy we use,” said Sen. Kerry. “I’m grateful that the Obama Administration recognizes the benefits of investing in these projects.”

“I commend the president for this major initiative,” said Sen. Kirk. “Smart grid technology is the future of American energy.”

Danvers Electric Light personnel had come to the Board of Selectmen in April to explain a proposal for 13,000 new electric meters to accommodate all utility consumers. The meters would be read from a centralized computer system. That centralized computer would eventually be able to tell customers about their specific electric usage, so that they could take advantage of lower rates in low-demand times, Public Works Director David Lane explained at the time.

With the new federal funds estimated to pay half of the $16.9 million project, the techno-savvy Danvers resident could have the ability to take charge of their own electric use within four years or so, said Marquis on Tuesday.

Besides the new meters talked about in April, the plan also includes technology that will allow the Electric Division to see outages in the system precisely and reroute power from other areas quickly, said Marquis.

The grant does not include replacing the water meters with the planned computerized, centralized metering system, as presented in April. The town will pay for that aspect, Marquis continued. The original plan called for using money from the water and sewer capital reserve accounts, which are accrued by putting aside 3 to 5 percent of total operational income each year, Lane said at the time.

The U.S. Dept. of Energy explained that the grants will provide 850 sensors to cover all of the U.S. electric grid; these will prevent minor disruptions anywhere across the U.S. from “cascading” into a major outage.

The Energy Department also stated that utility managers must rely on customers to tell them if there are energy outages now; the upgrades will alert them immediately to problems so that major outages can be prevented.

Customers won’t necessarily know when the new meters and “smart” system take effect, unless they choose to, because the transition will be so seamless, said Marquis. Then, with good information, customers can make choices that will save them more money.

Even if they choose to remain passive about the new technology, the consumers will save money, because the town’s Electric Division will save money; with the ability to see when it can reduce the amount of energy it is supplying, it will reduce its costs. And, that translates to savings for the consumers.

“Everybody comes out a winner,” Marquis said.

He credited DPW Director Lane, Electric Utility Director Coleen O’Brien-Pitts, Director of Engineering Operations for the Electric Division Hamid Jaffari, Electric Division engineer Martha Duffield, and Town Accountant Leonard Marshall, among others, for the successful grant application. Now, the town will meet with state and federal representatives to learn the rules and benchmark reporting requirements of the grant process.

“It’s certainly a happy day for us,” Marquis concluded.

Green Grid

The Electric Division announced separately that it is increasing its use of hydroelectric power from 2.48 percent to 5.13 percent, in an effort to go “green.”

While good for the earth, “green” is also more expensive than fossil fuel energy. Therefore, the town is teaming up with 15 other communities to get power from the Worumbo Hydro-Electric Project on the Androscogin River in Lisbon Falls, Maine, according to information from the Electric Division.

It will have no effect on the electric rates, while reducing the town’s carbon footprint and increasing its “green” portfolio.