Taunton Municipal Lighting Plant is an integral part of the community, a fact that was never more evident than in 2020. Much of the world ground to a halt for a brief period, but TMLP generating facilities, substations, transmission lines, internet services, solar farms and residential solar systems did not.
As a municipal electric utility, TMLP remained a leader in the ever-changing electric industry in 2020. TMLP continued to set its sights on a future of clean energy, adhering to its own goals as well as those set by legislative directives. Yet TMLP remained a leader and true to its mission of stable rates and reliable service, a sometimes trying task but one that is paramount to economic and environmental success.
We are a changing industry. We are also a partner to our ratepayers who rely on us to adapt to those changes.
When the new year began on January 1, 2020, we – both as individuals and as a utility –were unaware that the world would be faced with a pandemic in just a few months. Although we were unaware we were not unprepared for what the year would bring. Thanks to operational planning Taunton Municipal Lighting Plant was prepared to continue to conduct business as usual in what were to be very unusual circumstances.
During 2020, TMLP overcame adversity and challenges as a cohesive team to ensure that customers could depend on the department’s high level of reliability and remain fully functioning, working and studying in their own homes. Line crews adapted by following CDC guidelines when traveling to work sites, office staff adapted to conducting the crucial business of running a utility from remote locations, and hands-on generation and technical/engineering staff remained on the job, albeit in a socially distanced environment. As they say, the show must go on – and it did in large part to the outstanding dedication and commitment of the women and men of TMLP.
The show went on in 2020 with the retiring of Unit 8, a process that will take an estimated three years, but will result in the reduction of emissions and allow for the addition of more green energy. The show went on with the successful installation and operation of the Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) which resulted in significant peak savings in 2020. And it went on with the procurement of purchased power supply contracts that are well in line with TMLP’s and the Commonwealth’s non-carbon emitting energy goals. These actions, when combined with the distributed generation system have enabled TMLP to keep its rates stable through reduced production and transmission costs. At year end, TMLP and electric utilities throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts awaited Governor Charlie Baker’s signing of the climate change bill designed to reach net-zero or near net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050, with specific targeted reductions leading up to 2050. The then-pending legislation which has since been ratified simply solidified TMLP’s ongoing mission to create a greener energy supply by increasing its renewable energy sources, to adapt to the changes within the electric industry and to fully embrace this evolution of change not only through sustainable energy sources but by investing in the technology and personnel to continue the forward momentum.
TMLP continued to focus on the succession plan, a key component of this forward momentum as well as to our mission statement and business model. This plan is essential to day-to-day operations and to TMLP’s evolution as a progressive yet fiscally responsible utility in an ever-changing industry. Succession planning has enabled TMLP to plan for the future by providing opportunities from within as well as providing employment opportunities to new employees who bring their own professional talents to TMLP.
While 2020 was a year many would like to put behind them it was a year that TMLP and other businesses had an opportunity to re-evaluate practices, enabling us to see how important the role we play is in a changing world.
Taunton Municipal Lighting Plant was literally a shining light throughout 2020, especially during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was during those dreary days of 2020 and throughout the year that we saw first-hand the real benefits of a municipal lighting plant.
Although the doors were closed to the public from mid-March to early June 2020, TMLP was never closed for business. The lights continued to shine in homes and businesses, and heating and cooling systems continued to hum as did electronics that kept thousands of businesses up and running as many employees worked remotely from their homes in the TMLP service territory.
TMLP employees adapted to the unprecedented conditions and excelled in their duties, responsibilities and commitment to the utility. As members of the Municipal Light Commission of the City of Taunton and most importantly as customers we are grateful to the men and women of TMLP and the role they played as essential workers providing an essential service to our customers.
Being essential workers meant complying with Governor Charlie Baker’s mandates while forging ahead with daily operations. It was no easy task as TMLP staff hours and locations were adjusted and facilities adapted to comply with safe distancing practices and cleaning protocols. TMLP like the rest of the world was faced with the unknown but as always, they persevered through the difficult days and months.
2020 was a year of uncertainty and heartbreak for many. TMLP staff, leadership team and Commissioners are proud and humbled to have been among the essential and front-line workers who did their part and remain committed to helping make sure that life returns to a state of normalcy after this unprecedented year.
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.