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Mansfield Electric Dept. director ready to retire

By Rebecca Hyman Posted Nov. 19, 2015

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The new Bird Road substation was dedicated in 2013. From left, Mansfield Municipal Electric Department Director Gary Babin, Town Manager William Ross, Mansfield Light Commission Chairman George Dentino, Bird Road resident George Johnson, Selectman Jess Aptowitz, Bird Road resident Dan Bandanza and Selectman Kevin Moran Wicked Local file photo/Donna Whitehead

MANSFIELD – When Mansfield Municipal Electric Department Director Gary Babin was driving home after Hurricane Irene in 2011, he could tell when he hit the Foxboro town line without reading the road signs.

“Suddenly, it’s pitch black and it still is the next day and the next day. Meanwhile, all our lights are on,” said Babin, who is retiring on Dec. 3 after 11 years on the job. Babin said he’s proud of MMED’s performance. “Our reliability is outstanding,” he said.

And he’s proud of the fact the electric department achieves those results while maintaining rock bottom rates, he said. In a recent study by the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co., Mansfield had the lowest rates of all 47 member utilities for residential customers averaging 250 and 500 kilowatt hours a month. Babin said an average family uses about 500 kilowatt hours of electricity a month. The 47 utilities in the study include 39 others that are municipally-owned and seven that are investor-owned, including some heavy hitters like National Grid.

Babin chalked up the town’s low electric rates to a couple of factors. MMED doesn’t generate any of its own power. Instead it purchases power and has gotten some very good deals, he said. “Really, it’s about managing your power supply,” Babin said.

The other piece of the puzzle is low operating costs, he said. The department has 21 employees. Typically, a utility of the same size would have 30 employees, he said. But the department uses the money it does spend wisely, he said. They do a lot of preventative maintenance, like tree trimming to avoid power outages. And they just added a new substation in 2012.

Earlier this year, MMED received national recognition from the American Public Power Association as a “reliable public power provider,” one of only 200 to receive the honor out of 2,000 municipal utilities nationwide, Babin said.

Babin said it feels good knowing the state of the department is strong as he hands over the helm. “The next person in here will have a great staff, excellent infrastructure and finances in good shape,” Babin said.

Town Manager William Ross said he’s aiming to have Babin’s successor in place shortly after the first of the year. “This will take some time. It is a specialized job and there are a limited number of qualified individuals out there,” Ross said.

In the meantime, Ross – who officially carries the title of manager of the electric department by virtue of his role as town manager – will be handling any time-sensitive managerial tasks and light department staff will continue to perform all technical duties.

“He’s been a steady hand,” Ross said of Babin. Babin’s salary is $146,000 a year, Ross said. The salary for his successor has not yet been determined.