Wellesley Townsman

Saving green by going greener
By Anne-Marie Smolski Thu Mar 13, 2008

Wellesley - When Richard F. Joyce, director of the Wellesley Municipal Light Plant spoke last Thursday to Wellesley Kiwanis, the news he gave the club about energy conservation and renewable-energy initiatives was bright.

In the last year alone, the MLP has looked into renewable energy projects such as Bento Falls Hydro, Russell Bio-Mass, Berkshire Wind, Beaver Ridge Wind, Savoy Wind and Wellesley High School solar panels. Some, Joyce said in a later interview, "are impossible to cost-justify. But the last two, both of those we're currently going forward with."

Savoy Wind is a 12.5-megawatt wind turbine in Savoy in Berkshire County. The developer is Wellesley resident Don McCauley, president of Minuteman Wind.

"What Don has done is allowed a number of public power systems in Massachusetts [to] have the first shot in purchasing this renewable power," Joyce said. "He still needs a couple of regulatory approvals from Savoy." Joyce said that Wellesley is the lead participant and "we have the level of interest to go forward to purchase the entire 12.5 megawatts."

The solar panels at Wellesley High School is a project the MLP is working on with the school's Green Team. In 2002, the MLP undertook the project of putting up solar panels at the high school to use more as an education tool. The inverters have since burned out and need to be replaced. In February, the Green Team went to the Municipal Light Board and asked for $8,800. The funding was approved Monday night, Joyce said. In the fall, he said donations will be solicited from residents and businesses to replenish the Municipal Energy Conservation fund, which will be used to fund the Green Team's project.

In an attempt to encourage energy conservation among town departments, the Municipal Light Board started the MEC fund with a $500,000 donation last year. The purpose of the MEC is to identify and fund energy conservation initiatives that could be implemented at town buildings and facilities. The MEC is designed to be a self-replenishing fund. The MLP covers the cost for each initiative and receives a payback from the savings until all of its costs are recovered.

For example, the cost to install energy-efficient lighting at Town Hall was $35,000. That, in turn, produces an annual savings of $7,000. The MEC receives the savings for the first five years, and the town receives all subsequent savings.

Through the MEC program, lighting retrofits have been completed at the Hardy School, Hunnewell School, Town Hall, the Fire Station and the MLP/DPW Administrative Building. The total number of kilowatt hours eliminated amounts to 294,665 kWh.

MEC energy audits have been completed at the Police Station, Schofield School, Upham School, the Library parking garage and the Recycling & Disposal Facility.

Another area of saving is in line losses. The MLP receives delivery of the town's electricity from a designated central hub location in the Holyoke area. From this location, the MLP is responsible for delivering the electricity to Wellesley residents and businesses. As a member of ISO-New England, the MLP uses the region's transmission infrastructure to deliver its electricity from the central hub to NSTAR substations, in which the MLP has ownership entitlements in Newton and Needham. From these substations, the MLP has nine supply lines (three in Needham and six in Newton) into the town of Wellesley. The MLP then distributes this electricity to its customers on 34 circuits.

From the central hub to Wellesley homes and businesses, electricity is "eaten up" as a result of the resistance incurred during transportation through copper and aluminum wires and transformers. The amount of electricity that is lost through this dissipation process is referred to as line losses. One of the MLB's first energy conservation initiatives was to make infrastructure investments that would reduce line losses. From 1996 to today, the MLP has reduced its line losses by 1.75 percent, which produces an annual financial benefit of $360,000 and an environmental carbon dioxide reduction benefit equivalent to taking 504 automobiles off the road.

And then there are the T-Mobile profits. Under a pilot program, cell antennas have been attached to the tops of five light poles in town. They are connected back to a central hub by fiber. The MLB approved mounting the antennas on the poles under one condition, Joyce said - that the profits be invested in renewable energy or energy conservation. Starting in February, profits in the amount of $3,250 have been received and will be invested. This will be a monthly payment.

The MLP's Appliance Rebate Program has also been a win-win for residents and the town. Currently, rebates for energy efficient appliances are: $100 - refrigerator; $100 - central air conditioning; $75 - clothes washing machine; $75 - dishwasher; $50 - unit room air conditioner; $50 - dehumidifier.

Appliance rebates for FY 07 amounted to $33,500. Since the program's inception in 2002, rebates have been given for 354 refrigerators, 450 washing machines, 59 central air conditioners, 80 window air conditioners and 304 dishwashers, resulting in 1,546,770 kilowatt hours being saved.

And there's good news about electric rates, too, Joyce said. The residential rate savings, based on an average monthly usage of 1,000 kilowatt hours, is $108 for Wellesley residents compared to $184 for those served by NSTAR. Annually that's $1,296 for Wellesley and $2,208 for NSTAR customers - amounting to an annual savings of $912 for Wellesley.

In September 2007, the town's five-year contract with Constellation Power Source, a wholesale power supplier based in Baltimore, Md., expired. Now the MLP has a portfolio of nine individual contracts with a number of vendors with different termination dates. Joyce said, "As we come across a favorable power supply contract, we'll lock that in."

The town is also trying to eliminate some eyesores in town. There were a lot of complaints, Joyce said, about double poles. The Light Plant staff did a survey in September 2007 and found there were 284 double poles in town. (An example can be found near Dunkin' Donuts on Route 9.) Almost every wooden pole in Wellesley (and there are approximately 5,000 of them) is jointly owned by the WMLP and Verizon. The Light Plant owns the top of the pole and Verizon owns the middle. Nothing is allowed to go farther down the pole than 12 feet from the ground. Verizon is in the process of transferring their equipment to the new pole at each location.

For information about home energy audits call 781-235-7600. For appliance rebates: 781-235-7600. Hot Line: 888-772-4242.