Our Town - Getting to Know You Norwood Light Broadband

Donna Lane
Issue Date: 
October, 2018
Article Body: 

This is the fourth in a 6-part series on the Town’s departments and key employees within them.
Few towns are fortunate enough to have their own town utilities. In all of New England, there are only 80 municipal light departments. These utilities exist to help keep costs down, returning any profits to the town’s coffers, ultimately reducing taxes. We are one of the lucky towns.
James Collins is the superintendent of the Norwood Light Department (NLD).
“We are in the business of supplying power reliably, at low cost and in a safe manner,” Collins said.
Reliability and safety don’t appear to be issues to residents, however, recent rate increases have been questioned.
In the past two years, there have been several usage increases: 5.9% in June of 2017, another 5.9% in January of 2018, and in July of 2018, a 2.8% conservation charge was initiated. Collins explained that the January and July increases did not pay 100 percent of what it cost the Town to purchase energy during that period.
Collins proceeded to explain that there are two things that drive energy costs – capacity cost and transmission cost. Capacity costs fluctuate and are based on our peak usage. These costs are driven by the fact that older plants are closing down and new power plants are not being built to replace them. There are other factors as well, but the bottom line is that peak demand drives our rates and the Town is doing everything possible to lower that peak to keep overall costs down and to conserve energy.
NLD has instituted several programs to reduce peak demand and to reduce energy use. One of these programs is a commercial/industrial lighting retrofit program so businesses can convert to more efficient lighting. Another program was started this past June where commercial customers were asked to drop their use of electricity during peak periods to reduce the peak charge. The Town shares the savings with businesses that participate in these programs. Collins estimates that we saved $450,000 since offering the commercial peak reduction program.
They also offer a residential electric water heater program which was designed for customers who have a separate electric meter for their electric water heater. The heater is directly controlled by NLD allowing them to shut the heaters off during the Town’s peak demand periods. In return, customers are billed at a lower off-peak rate. For customers whose heaters are metered through their regular electric meter, a switch can be installed at their tank (no charge) which allows the Town to control their water heater for a few hours during peak electric usage. These customers receive a credit on their electric bill. NLD also continues to offer residents Energy Star appliance rebates and free home energy audits.
Comparatively speaking, how do Norwood’s rates stack up against the “big” guys? When you compare the rates of National Grid (previously MassElectric), our electric rates are 26% lower on average. And, compared to Eversource (the old Boston Edison, a.k.a. NStar), Norwood’s rates are 40% lower on average. That is significant.
Collins said the Town is always looking at ways to conserve energy. For example, NLD recently completed a changeover of most of the lights in town from high-pressure sodium to LEDs. The annual cost to operate those lights before the project was undertaken was $350,000 per year. The estimated cost for this year is $195,000 and the estimate for next year is approximately $160,000 – less than half of what it cost to light the Town in 2017.
In addition to our electrical needs, NLD has a Broadband Division that offers cable TV, high-speed internet and telephone service to residents and businesses in town. They are in direct competition with two of the largest telecommunications companies in the nation – Comcast and Verizon. According to the Department of Telecommunications and Cable, NLB has maintained more video subscribers in Norwood than both Comcast and Verizon. Collins attributes the Broadband Division’s success to Norwood’s loyal customer base.
“It is an exciting time in internet technology and we want to make sure residents have affordable, reliable, and secure access to these services,” Collins said.
So, what is new and in what direction is NLD moving to provide renewable energy to our town? Collins says that NLD currently purchases 15% of our power from renewable energy sources – three windmill projects in Maine, two solar projects in Spencer, MA and from the New York Power Authority. Energy New England, a company specializing in managing municipal power supplies, manages our power supply and is helping NLD source more renewable energy.
Solar will likely be the next big thing! Solar panels are currently being installed over the parking lot at Norwood Central. NLD will purchase power from this source when it is available. But they have their sights set on an even larger solar installation. They are proposing a photovoltaic solar farm be built on top of the old dump at our Winter Street facility. The installation would not pierce the membrane capping (which was a former worry), and would not be visible from the street nor make any noise. This proposal sounds like a huge win for the Town!!
If after the public meeting in September (sorry, we go to press before this meeting takes place) there are no major objections and the Selectmen sign the license, Collins says the goal would be for the build to be complete by the end of this year.
“The cost of power will be less than our average cost today,” Collins said.
He projects that these panels will provide approximately 1% of the Town’s total energy requirements, which would mean we would have a known rate for at least 25 years for that piece of the energy pie.
NLD personnel and its management are working to keep our town “electrified,” charging lower than average cost for this service, with an eye to more renewable energy in the future. They are fulfilling their contract with their shareholders – the residents of Norwood.
For more information on Norwood Municipal Light Department’s conservation and load management programs, go to http://www.norwoodlight.com/electric.