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Princeton’s electric rates, already among state’s highest, set to increase

March 7, 2013


Princeton residents, already paying one of the highest electricity rates in the state, are now facing an additional sharp increase in their monthly bill.

The good news is the increase will likely be temporary.

At its Feb. 27 meeting, the board of light commissioners voted to accept the recommendation of general manager Brian Allen to apply a purchased power cost adjustment fee beginning with the March 1 bill at a rate not to exceed 3.5 cents per kilowatt hour.

That means customers using 800 kilowatts per month will pay an additional $28 for the purchased power cost adjustment portion of their bill. Those using 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each month will pay an additional $35. The average household in Princeton uses between 800 to 1,000 kilowatts per month.

“I’ve been watching the energy prices go up, and it’s been a concern,” said Allen. “There is a shortage of natural gas to this area and electric generating plants using natural gas couldn’t satisfy the demand so they are being forced to switch over to alternative fuels such as oil and diesel. So they are passing on the impact of that increased cost to us,” said Allen. “The last time I saw energy prices this high was in January 2011 and then we were able to cover the increase in cost,” he added.

“Folks in this town already have high rates, but we have to cover our costs,” he said.

Asked how other towns deal with the problem, Allen said most other utilities have a rate stabilization fund or depreciation account that help them get through the fluctuations in energy costs. “They are in a much better financial situation than we are. We can take a look at all our expenses but when energy costs spike we don’t have the funds to cover that. We only have $3,000 in reserves to fall back on. All the cushion we had was used to build the wind farm,” he said.

The town has to do something temporarily, similar to the $10 fee added to meet the costs for the ice storm cleanup, said commission chairman Scott Bigelow.

The fee added for the purchase power cost adjustment can’t be used for anything but covering the energy cost, said Allen. “I have no control over the cost of energy.”

“People can understand the increase,” said Bigelow. “Just look at the cost of gas. From the person that drives to work to the person that owns a fleet of trucks, it’s just another hit,” he added.

The town’s energy budget is based on a look at the past two years, he said. The town budgeted $95,621.00 for energy in January and the actual purchase cost is $118,577.80, he said leaving a shortfall for just the energy portion of the bill at $22,956.80. PMLD is still waiting on the bill for ISO transmission tariff, estimated at $18,000- $21,000, National Grid transmission fee, estimated at $10,000, and Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric service bills estimated at $2,500-$3,000, said Allen. That could add up to a shortfall of $50,956 for January.

“February gets worse,” said Allen.

Asked how PMLD could make up the increased amount needed to pay for the energy, Allen said he’s been holding off on other expenses, cutting back, and juggling bills. February energy expenses will have to be recovered in March, he said.

The town’s energy is provided by MMWEC, said Allen. The contract says they can make the town raise rates to meet expenses, although he wasn’t sure that could happen since it’s a decision the town would have to make, he added.

Resident Jim Whitman encouraged the commissioners to set the PPCA at 3.5 cents to meet the expense. “We want to keep our option open to refinance our debt so this isn’t a time to not be paying bills. Because there isn’t enough natural gas, the costs are being passed on to us so we need the adjustment. It’s not our doing, it’s external. People should focus their anger not at PMLD, but at those who won’t build pipelines to New England. They should write to their congressman,” he added.

Whitman, a former light commissioner, said in the past, PMLD has helped make people aware of how they can help themselves and PMLD by conserving electricity. “Encourage people to do laundry at 10 p.m. instead of between 5-7 p.m. We did this before and it was very effective,” he added.

Princeton’s peak time is 7 p.m.

Ways to save

The Princeton Municipal Light Department suggests several ways to save energy.

These include:

• Dry clothes on an indoor rack or clothesline

• Use the dishwasher, washer and dryer during off-peak hours (peak hours are 5-8 p.m.)

• Unplug power chargers for phones and electronics when not in use.

• Turn off outside home lighting more frequently

• Turn off all computers, satellite receivers and television before bedtime

• Replace incandescent bulbs with energy-saving bulbs

• Wash clothes in cold water instead of warm or hot water

• Turn down the temperature on the hot water storage tank

Go to or for other energy saving tips for the home.