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Westover power pact announced

Friday, March 20, 2009

CHICOPEE - City and Westover Air Reserve Base officials announced Thursday a 50-year contract has been signed with the U. S. government for Chicopee Electric Light to own, operate and maintain the electrical distribution system at the base.

The agreement, which went into effect on Jan. 1, calls for $2.5 million in upgrades over six years, to be reimbursed by Westover at the completion of each phase.

Mayor Michael D. Bissonnette, 439th Airlift Wing Commander Robert R. Swain and Chicopee Electric Light Manager Jeffrey R. Cady made the announcement at a council chambers press conference.

The municipal utility is now providing service for Westover Air Reserve Base - physically the nation's largest Air Force Reserve installation.

Chicopee Electric Light Commissioner Chester P. Gazda said the agreement will result in major upgrades and prevent many outages around the base.

"This has been a long time coming. It continues a partnership between the City of Chicopee and the men and women at Westover," Cady said. "It was a long process to get the contract completed, but in the end, I think it is very favorable ... it will provide more reliability to the base and to our customers."

Bissonnette said the announcement "dovetails nicely with the federal 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Initiative," which kept Westover open and launched construction such as the $31.4 million Armed Forces Reserve Center.

The contract will help the mission of the base, lead to a long partnership, and act as "the economic engine for Memorial Drive" and the local economy, the mayor said.

"It is good to see that the revenue created by taking over the distribution system will stay in Chicopee. There has been some talk of privatizing the water and sewer at Westover, which the city of Chicopee will continue to explore with base officials," Bissonnette said.

Swain praised the agreement and said he and his colleagues are looking forward to working closely with the city.

"The men and women of Chicopee Electric Light have proven themselves to be key members of the Western Massachusetts business infrastructure for many years," said Swain. "We are pleased that CEL is assisting us in managing our base's power supply."

Cady said the contract will involve upgrading most of the existing system to the same 15kV equipment used in CEL's electrical distribution system. It has been a long process, he said, with the bid for the Westover distribution system going out in December 2002.

Due to budget cutbacks and other issues, the project was delayed until the end of 2008.
After completing the upgrades at Westover, CEL will have upgraded the entire city distribution system which provides greater reliability and increased capacity, Cady said.

CEL is currently finishing up the Memorial Drive and Burnett Road conversions.

"Although it took longer than expected to finalize the contract, the timing is good for us because we will be done with the rest of our upgrades and can concentrate on ... Westover," he said.

In addition, CEL is moving forward with building a 115kV to 15kV substation on Memorial Drive to replace the Prospect Street station.