The Danvers Municipal Light Board

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Fri, 01/20/2023 - 21:42

Guest Article by Linda Leonard with Robert Gamer

[Over the last two years, members of Breathe Clean North Shore and other organizations and individuals have sought to delay and prevent the construction of the new peaker plant in Peabody. We view it as a threat to the health of nearby residents in Peabody, Danvers, and Salem, as well as contributing to the process of climate warming. Among the barriers to citizen participation in the process was the lack of transparency from the project developer, the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC), and the Peabody Municipal Light Plant. We, therefore, asked Linda Leonard and Robert Gamer to relate their very different experiences with the Danvers Municipal Light Plant so we might appreciate the underlying differences. We note that Linda, Robert, and the Danvers officials quickly established a cordial and respectful relationship.

The Danvers Municipal Light plant was the first such operation in the Commonwealth, established in 1889. A three-member board is appointed by and serves under the direction of the town manager. The Peabody Municipal Light plant has a 5-member board elected by residents, with vacancies filled by appointment; the plant is not subject to oversight by city officials.—JH] 

The meeting time and place for the Danvers Municipal Light Board(DMLB) were not easy to find. Not because they are operating in the dark, but simply because the members are each quite busy. And honestly, they don’t think the meetings are very interesting.

A bit of background info. A few years ago I (Linda) had to email the MLB regarding net zero. As I felt it critical to know what I was talking about and to understand what I was being told, I took an online university course called Fundamentals of Electric Power. This gave me a solid base from which to understand and question.

Bob Gamer and I became interested in the Danvers Municipal Light Board (DMLB) when we decided we needed to do something to ensure that the board was moving in a green direction. Once I found the time and place of the May 2021 meeting, I emailed the board members of our intent to attend and put forth three salient questions I wished answered, all concerning renewable energy. Bill Hayes, the chairman, responded, welcomed us, and answered my questions factually. I had expected the need to be pushy and demanding; however, my polite email and understanding tone and Bill’s kind response set the tone for a most cordial relationship.

We attended our first meeting with questions concerning renewable energy. The Board members confirmed that the town is not only thinking about renewables, they are actively working on solar collectors on the landfill area, the new Smith school, the Highlands school, and the high school. They are also planning for battery arrays for storage. Also, the DMLB has been buying renewables contracts as they are available and financially feasible.

Because one of my questions concerned digging deeply into the Electric Division portfolio, David Lane, Utility Director of the Electric Division, suggested that rather than take up the whole board’s time, Bob and I meet privately with Clint Allen, Assistant Director. We did so and had all our questions answered as well as learned about future contracts and procurement procedures. Danvers Electric is ahead of schedule to meet the guidelines for the reduction of fossil fuel. Supply chain issues are a problem, but they are employing sound strategies for handling these issues and the ratepayers have not been inconvenienced, nor have the ratepayers had a cost increase. The DMLB is also working on a roadmap for future electrical needs, as the town population acquires more electric vehicles, converts to more heat pump technology, and adds solar panels to their homes. [DMLB has a residential solar voltaic program with net metering and rebates for the generated electricity. There is also a demand management program called the Danvers Smart Savings Program which provides a cash incentive for control over central air conditioners. ]

Bob and I will continue to monitor the monthly MLB meetings. I find it fascinating and quite educational. We give all the members the highest grades for transparency, responsiveness, and forward-thinking. They were even willing to meet with us privately to answer questions we had about the electric portfolio and procurement and future contracts.