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Electric Light Dept Perspectives: Prioritizing Rates vs. Conservation vs. Maintenance

With the passage in 2021 of “An Act Creating A Next-Generation Roadmap For Massachusetts Climate Policy,” the state has entered a new era of power generation, with the goal of reducing carbon emissions by 50 percent before 2030 and by 100 percent by 2050. Marblehead’s Net Zero Roadmap calls for achieving net zero carbon emissions even earlier: by 2040. 


In Marblehead, the Electric Light Department Commissioners are the individuals tasked with achieving these goals. The commission includes five individuals, each of whom generally serve three-year staggered terms. For this year's election on June 20, 2023, there are two open spots on the committee, one for a standard three-year term and the other for the one-year remaining of the term opened up by the resignation of Karl Johnson last summer. Adam Smith was appointed to fill that seat for the past year, and he is currently running to complete the rest of the term, with Nate Burke also a contender. The candidates for the three-year seat are Lisa Wolf, who currently serves on the board, and Walter Homan. The remaining members of the Light Commission - not currently up for re-election - are Chair Michael Hull and Commissioners Simon Frechette and Jean-Jacques Yarmoff.


Marblehead currently purchases electricity from a wide range of sources, including hydro, nuclear, and wind power as well as more traditional sources. According to the Marblehead Municipal Light Department’s Power Portfolio report, Marblehead was purchasing 43 percent of its power from carbon-free sources in 2021, with the goal of continuing to increase that percentage. Challenges include the need for substantial improvements to Marblehead’s infrastructure, the very long lead time on purchasing new transformers, and the extra expense involved in purchasing power from wind and other renewable sources.


Marblehead Beacon asked all four of the candidates for Electric Light Department a series of three questions in preparation for the upcoming town election. The first focused on the new Peaker Plant and the second involved issues surrounding the benefits and costs of the transition to electric-only power in Marblehead. The third and final question is as follows:


What in your view is the primary responsibility of the Light Department? How would you rank the following in order of importance: keeping rates as low as possible for ratepayers, conservation and the transition to green energy sources, maintenance of power lines and infrastructure?


The candidates’ replies are listed in alphabetical order, similar to our first and second articles about this race, but this time starting with the third candidate in the rotation.


Adam Smith

“Our municipally owned and operated Light Department – one of only 41 such plants in the state – must be prepared for a rapidly changing energy market while continuing to provide reliable services at reasonable cost to all Marblehead residents. All three of these goals are equally important. We need to keep our rates as low as possible. We need to conserve and transition to clean energy sources because it will keep our rates low and it’s the right thing to do for our children. And we need to maintain our power lines and infrastructure and improve our distribution system to avoid outages and accommodate the increased need for electricity in our town.”


Lisa Wolf

“Without a functional distribution system Marblehead cannot continue to provide reliable service, or take the necessary steps to transition off of fossil fuels, so maintaining our infrastructure is of primary importance. Strategic planning is necessary to budget system upgrades, to negotiate competitive energy contracts, to avoid costly surprises, and keep operating costs down. It is a false choice between keeping rates low and reducing carbon emissions – both are equally important, and both can be accomplished by initiatives such as peak demand management and utility scale battery storage.”


Nate Burke

"The MMLD is the steward of all the town’s infrastructure related to energy. The department must continue to provide safe, reliable, and affordable energy.  In recent years we have moved towards going green as part of the ongoing responsibility of the department. We are currently at 44% carbon neutrality and will continue to improve until we achieve 100% net neutrality. I stand by this commitment to green our future. Once more green providers come online, we will capitalize on the options and achieve our goal."


Walter Homan

"The primary responsibility of the Light Department is to keep the power on and the rates low for the citizens of Marblehead.


Ranking in order of Importance:

- Keeping the rates low for the rate payers of Marblehead

- Maintenance of the power lines and the infrastructure  

- Conversion and Transition into green energy


Something that was not asked to be ranked was the safety of the workers that work on our lines in the good and bad weather. They are what keeps the power on and they are a number one concern. Safety should and always will be a number one concern."