Wind-energy project boosts prices for Princeton Municipal Light Department
Sentinel & Enterprise
By Michael Hartwell
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PRINCETON -- Earlier this month, Unitil Corp.'s electricity rates fell below the rates of Princeton Municipal Light Department, and Brian Allen, manager for Princeton, said unexpected costs from a wind-energy project made his department's rates among the highest in the state.
"I'm not happy where it is, that's for sure," he said.
A fall in the price of electricity made from burning natural gas led to a rate reduction in Unitil's prices, but not in those for Princeton Municipal Light Department.
A Unitil customer now pays $116.38 a month for 650 kilowatt-hours while a customer of the Princeton Municipal Light Department pays $124.80.
Allen, who came on board in October, said the trouble started in 2006 when the department decided to invest in two windmills. At that point, the department had zero debt and took out a $7.3 million mortgage for the project.
"All the projections for paying back that loan was on 2006 energy prices," said Allen. He said it would have worked if energy prices hadn't fallen. The two windmills went online in January 2010 and the gear box in the southern unit broke in August 2011 and is still offline.
Allen said his department still has to make mortgage payments and has had trouble finding the money to fix the broken windmill.
He said voters have chosen not to invest in nuclear-power operations, and the public wants to get its power from other alternative-energy sources, which are more expensive. Princeton gets 31 percent of its power from wind energy and 18 percent from hydroelectric sources.
Allen's department has 1,500 customers and no industrial base, so his department is unable to offset residential rates by charging higher commercial rates.
It's unknown if Princeton now has the highest rates in the state, just that they are higher than Unitil. But Allen said if Princeton isn't the highest, his department is at least close to the top.
MMWEC releases an unofficial ranking of utility rates quarterly. Dave Tuohey, director of Communications and External Affairs, said he expects the next ranking to be released within a month, but cautioned the purpose is to be used by different utilities as a gauge, not an official list of who charges the most.