COVID-19 was a dominant factor in the way TMLP conducted business in 2020. From closing to the public and reopening under social distancing guidelines, TMLP staff worked remotely and later returned to an adapted workplace that relied on rotating schedules, limited customer interaction and safe workplace practices. TMLP relied on its leadership team, Environmental Health and Safety, MIS and a host of other individuals to keep everyone safe and staff working from home. Employees who once worked on desktop computers at TMLP facilities relied on MIS to not only secure the necessary laptops, but to also get the laptops up and running with specific programs for each individual user. And those who worked in the business office and TMLP offsite facilities relied on Environmental Health and Safety, and Transmission and Distribution crews to put up partitions to adhere to social distancing guidelines and gather supplies and personal protection equipment during times when they were in high demand and short supply.
In spite of COVID-19 and its far-reaching implications as a global pandemic, Taunton Municipal Lighting Plant reached significant milestones during 2020, continuing and completing projects that will affect the way TMLP as a utility does business, now and in the future.
Among the significant non-COVID related projects undertaken by TMLP was the ceasing of operations and the beginning of the decommissioning process for the 55-year-old Unit 8 at the Cleary-Flood Generation Station. In early 2020 TMLP staff began preliminary planning for environmental assessment and equipment removal at the 26-megawatt oil-fired generator that was built in 1965 and slated for decommissioning in June 2023. At the same time TMLP staff carried out the annual inspection for Unit 9 and began extensive preparations for the major inspection scheduled for 2021. Efforts included the procurement of 10-row of turbine blading, preparation of various technical specifications including the steam turbine major inspection, gas turbine controls upgrade, plant IT network upgrade and boiler inspection/refractory repair.
Another significant project at the Cleary-Flood station was the completion and successful startup of the 3 MW Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) in March. Funded in part by a $1.25M grant from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, the clean energy system was successful in reaching 100% of all forecasted monthly hourly peak loads to coincide with peak saving more than $166,000 for TMLP in its nine months of operation in 2020. The West Water Street distributed generation system continued to achieve peak load reductions, controlled costs and provided significant savings in transmission costs to ratepayers in 2020. The savings of $1,721,000 were realized by the four TMLP generators that operated successfully and reduced the monthly and annual peak.
The voluntary Go Green 100% program for residential and commercial customers continued to attract new customers during its first full year of availability. Rate program participants chose to have their electricity come from 100% renewable energy sources made possible through the purchase and retirement of qualifying Massachusetts Class 1 Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). This rate program is significant in helping TMLP achieve its non-carbon goals. TMLP’s purchased power supply contracts also played a key role in ensuring stable rates and building its non-carbon emitting energy portfolio. TMLP contracted throughout the year for future green resources which will include additional hydro, biomass and solar as well as an extension of hydro power transmission.
TMLP’s commitment to sustainable and renewable energy sources was strengthened by its year-long participation in the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) Municipal Light Plant (MLP) Solar rebate program for the installation of small-scale solar projects. The DOER rebate program complimented the residential, commercial and industrial solar projects and the seven solar farms that have produced more than 27 million kilowatt-hours of electricity in the TMLP service territory.
TMLP’s electric vehicle (EV) rebate program was expanded in 2020 with the addition of the 2nd Drive program which provided a rebate on the purchase of a qualified used EV at participating local car dealerships. This limited-time rebate through APPA’s Demonstration of Energy and Efficiency Developments (DEED) grant complimented the EV Level 2 charger rebate as well as the State and Federal EV rebate programs for the purchase of an EV. An informational webinar was also held to create awareness among customers.
The groundwork for the full conversion to the Cogsdale Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system which began in 2019 was affected by COVID-19 as TMLP staff transitioned to working remotely and returning on a rotating basis. Internal data conversion continued in preparation for an expected launch of customer service functions in 2022 while in-house functions became available mid-year for TMLP end-users. When fully operational the Cogsdale system will affect all TMLP capacities and will provide greater control and flexibility well into the future.
Additional residential solar projects were completed in 2020 totaling 152.48 kW of residential solar power installed and solar rebates to residential customers bringing the total solar connected power at year end to 27,001,734 kWh produced and 14,350,485 kWh consumed. TMLP energy efficiency and rebate programs for both residential and commercial customers continued throughout the pandemic with energy audits available remotely by Energy New England (ENE), TMLP’s energy services provider. The House ‘N Home Thermal and Energy Star appliance rebate programs flourished with appliance rebates to residential customers.
TMLP crews installed new electric service to 17 new developments and subdivisions in the service territory in addition to replacing old streetlights with 1245 LED streetlights, bringing the total of streetlights replaced to more than 6,000 or 60% of the approximately 10,000 streetlights in the service area. TMLP crews encountered seven major storms in 2020 including Tropical Storm Isaias. Two TMLP crews were part of a mutual aid response to Wallingford, CT in the aftermath of the August tropical storm. Installation of fiber optic service remained steady in 2020 with fiber installed on three streets in Berkley during 2020.
Community outreach was highlighted by the virtual Public Power Week celebration in October. Customers participated in contests after viewing videos created by TMLP staff during the virtual celebration. A new customer-centric website was launched in 2020 that enabled customers to easily navigate the site and access online forms and information. Communication with customers was also enhanced with the launch of eNewsletters for new and residential customers and the redesign of the Key Accounts newsletter to co-brand with the residential enewsletter. TMLP staff generously donated to the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Vested Interest in K9’s and the United Way in addition to the many charitable endeavors supported by individuals and families. TMLP continued its association with the Leddy School as a business partner and hung banners in support of local organizations and community events.