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Energy for the job: New director of Mansfield electric department eyes challenges ahead

Sunday, April 10, 2016


MANSFIELD - As the new director of the Mansfield Municipal Electric Department, Joe Sollecito has the advantage of coming into an award-winning department with some of the lowest rates of any publicly-owned utility in the state.

But, he also arrives at a time when electric utilities are facing challenges because of shuttered generating plants, higher energy costs and a demand for more renewable forms of electricity.

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Joe Sollecito is the new director of the Mansfield Municipal Electric Department.

Sollecito, 50, succeeded Gary Babin as leader of Mansfield Electric a month ago, and says he's grateful for the high level of service and attention to detail provided by the department and its leaders.

"This is an incredibly well-built system," said Sollecito, who previously worked for the Taunton Municipal Lighting Plant. "Things have been done well here for a long time."

Mansfield Electric recently won a reliable power award from the American Public Power Association, and the system's rates are among the state's lowest, according to the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co., owned by the state's publicly owned utilities.

Sollecito credits the power supplier's leadership and its 21 employees for setting and maintaining high standards.

"I've been impressed by the flexibility and the depth of knowledge that our people have," he said. "Everybody takes pride in what they do."

Sollecito, who holds a law degree in addition to a degree in electrical engineering, has spent most of his professional career working for electric utilities, beginning with Newport Electric in Rhode Island when he was a co-op student at Northeastern University.

For the past 17 years, he has been manager for customer service at the Taunton Municipal Electric Department, a larger, city-owned utility that generates much of its own power.

While the Taunton resident comes into an organization with a track record, he's also cognizant of a number of challenges that will be facing Mansfield Electric and other utilities in the Northeast.

A number of traditional, fossil-fueled generating plants have closed or are in the process of closing, Sollecito said, forcing greater reliance on natural gas and causing a marked increase in capacity charges for utilities that want to buy wholesale power.

The town's board of electric commissioners has already taken action to hedge against expected cost increases, but cost remains an issue.

Mansfield Electric has also seen a decrease in demand for industrial power, with the closing of the ADM Cocoa plant. A challenge for the future will be to try to attract new or expanded industries that can use that capacity, Sollecito said.

The town is already embarking on steps to meet another challenge, Sollecito said - that of making greater use of renewable energy.

Commissioners have suggested re-examining a proposal to create a solar farm at the former town landfill, and an engineering study is in the works.

While Mansfield Electric already has solar in its mix of power sources, such a facility could expand the utility's menu of energy alternatives.