BED Comes Back to the Voters with Special Election June 28, Request for Revenue Bond for SMART METERS etc and Hydro-Quebec Contract

May 17, 2011
Miller Center, 130 Gosse Court
Facilitator:Jason L’Ecuyer, Ward 7
Timekeeper:  Lea Terhune, Ward 4.

May 17 Neighborhood Planning Assembly featured discussion with Barb Grimes and the electric commission about questions on the June 28 special election ballot -- HydroQ contract and a bond for proposed smart grid infrastructure upgrade. A small group allowed for in-depth questions, as well as comments and opinions from all residents present. Ch17 posts the tape on their website: Ch17, May 17, North And NPA.

Click here for BED HANDOUT Fact Sheet 
BED will go to the voters in June to request approval for a $13.575 revenue bond, which, if approved,
would finance the following three projects and a Debt Reserve Fund:
* $7.2 million to pay for half of the SMART GRID project (a DOE grant is paying for the other half);
* $2.675 million to purchase an equity investment in VT TRANSCO;
* $2.7 million for necessary upgrades at the Highgate Converter Station, of which BED owns
* $1 million for a Debt Service Reserve and the cost of issuing the debt.

Click here for BALLOT QUESTION

HQ CONTRACT: Hydro power has been reclassified by the state of Vermont as renewable energy. The contract allows BED to move toward it's goal of having a 100% renewable portfolio (mix). Bob Herendeen, electric commissioner from the North End, told us about his familiarity with the area where the H-Q dams were built and will be expanded. His support for the contract is based, he says, on realities today. The Cree have been paid well for their land and are now in support of the project, some alternatives are worse (natural gas fracking, nuclear power plants and nuclear waste). Although conflicted, Bob voted in favor of the contract. Janet Paterson asked, in a small voice, "What about solar power?"

SMART GRID: We are fortunate in the North End to have easy access to key players in the smart grid game -- Barb Grimes, General Manager of BED; Paul Hines, Vice-Chair of the Burlington Electric Commission; Bob Herendeen, Burlington Electric Commission and Gund Fellow; and Liz Miller, Chairman of the Public Service Board. There is a 7 min overview by Liz Miller, with focus on how Vermont can overcome consumer resistence, how rates can change the use patterns of consumers, and the marriage between broadband and smart grid. Also a 14 min video of Paul Hines presenting information about how the data feedback from our homes and businesses about energy use, and the pricing system, will improve management of the power grid. Both video clips are from the  "Smart Meters and Beyond" conference sponsored by Sandia Laboratories, UVM, and the state of Vermont.

Our ability to ask intelligent, insightful questions has benefited from independent inquiry by another neighbor, retired business executive John Foss. John addressed his concerns to the panel of BED staff, electric  commissioners, and councilors. His questions summarized well the concerns of consumers about financial risks to the ratepayers (it's a very pricey infrastructure upgrade with untested technology), privacy of information gathered on customers use and income, and whether this is another BT with taxpayers' pooled cash as the piggybank? He is concerned about loading-up the ARRA cost schedule with non smart grid and smart meter line items to build the size of the project to $14 mil. Check the tape for the answers.

The central question was "Will it reduce our electric rates?" The answer is yes and no. Yes, if you change your behavior and can avoid energy use during peak hours. No, if you have to use the dryer and the stove and the air conditioner, the TV, and the SAD light at 5pm. Paul explained that the smart grid would integrate homeowners' solar and wind systems into the mix, and earn Vermont another "first" in the nation. Lots more details -- watch the tape! Ch17, May 17, North And NPA

Tom Evslin, Vermont Tiger, Smart Grid what and why. How we can save money and use energy efficiently with smart meters on our homes and businesses. more-->

The Problem with Smart Grids  by B. Blake Levitt and Chellis Glendinning. How is it that so many intelligent, inside-the-beltway environmentalists are buying into an eco-health-safety-finance debacle with the potential to increase energy consumption, endanger the environment, harm public health, diminish privacy, make the national utility grid more insecure, cause job losses, and make energy markets more speculative?  Answer: by not doing their homework. more-->

Troublesome: -Break PSB rules to advertise before election? -Going to voters with ballot question re smart grid, Hydro-Q contract, equity investment in VELCO, upgrade of Highgate Converter System, debt service reserve to ask for funding after BED has already committed to providing matching funds for Sandia project and BED is spending in anticipation of passing the bond vote? Approved by the Burlington Electric Commission, on recommendation of management.

“It will be problematic if the bond goes down because we have already committed to the Department of Energy as part of this state-wide consortium [and] we are moving ahead with the work. And to meet the time frame, this all has to be done in three years. So I did not have the luxury of waiting until after this vote to start.”  Barbara Grimes, General Manager, Burlington Electric Department. Ward 6 NPA, Feb 3, 2011. 
Q. Davis: "What if the bond doesn't pass?"  A. Grimes: "I would have to file for a rate increase; this money comes with a match and we have already started spending our own money that will be replaced either with voter approval of a bond or with a rate increase. I can't stiff the suppliers." Ward 5 NPA 02/08/2011. 
Q. Cslr Wright: "What will not getting this [bond] passed mean to the [ratepayers] of Burlington? A. Grimes: "The impact is that we have already started investing in smart meters because it was a requirement of the DOE grant, it was part of ... the requirement of the consortium, and the deadlines that we had to meet meant we had to anticipate revenues that were not in yet...if this bond does not pass this time we will have to stop what we are doing and figure out from revenues how we're going to cover what we've spent..."  City Council, 4/25/11
Q. Cslr Hartnett: "Are we spending money now that we don't have? A. Grimes: Yes...we have spent money in anticipation of revenues and there has been every expectation that we would get it.. City Council, 4/25/11

From BED website: Smart Grid
As BED continues to move forward with the development of the smart grid, we want to keep our customers informed of the progress. Click here to learn more about the federal grant that got the program going in Vermont and the projects that BED will be undertaking. It is an exciting time in the electricity world.
7:00 Welcome people at home, Introductions and Announcements, Agenda, Ground Rules.
7:05 Discussion with Elected and Appointed Officials about city issues. Facilitator will ask elected/appointed officials to come forward, and share the available time. Residents may comment, ask questions.
7:30 PROGRAM: BED Special Election for voter approval of revenue bond, and Hydro-Quebec contract. Barb Grimes, General Manager. Paul Hines, Chair of Electric Commission. Questions from the floor.
8:40 Open Forum for Residents - Brief statements of neighborhood/citywide interest or concern. Questions, comments. (Please come to the mic so all can hear you clearly.) Request that officials remain in place so issues can be directed to them for action, explanation, and resolution.
8:50 Reflections:Thoughts/ideas that came up during assembly.