The Reading Municipal Light Department’s decision to retire its Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) may be headed for another round of debate after the RMLD Citizens’ Advisory Board voted 5-0 to revisit the issue at a meeting last week.
The vote comes after the CAB voted 4-1 at an earlier meeting to back the decision of the RMLD Board of Commissioners to sell the utility’s RECs.
The RMLD’s decision touched off heated debate, with many concerned citizens wondering why the utility would walk away from as much as $32 million dollars in revenue that could be gained through the sale of the certificates.
Now, some are saying that the perceived backpedaling by the CAB on this issue demonstrates a breakdown of proper process and procedure.
The CAB’s role is to solicit input from the communities who are RMLD customers—Lynnfield, Wilmington, North Reading and, of course, Reading—and act in an advisory capacity to the RMLD Board of Commissioners.
Not Enough Feedback?
According to some people with knowledge of the situation, the CAB members did not get enough input from their Boards of Selectmen and Town Administrators.
“It’s clear the people who are on the CAB did not get input from their own boards,” said candidate for the RMLD Board of Commissioners Marsie West. “I certainly do hope the RMLD Board will vote to reconsider its decision. I’m a little concerned they may not, given the lack of willingness to listen to the entire North Reading Board of Selectmen. I do think they haven’t had a good process in this and have pushed it along as quick as they could.”
The CAB’s 5-0 vote could be the first step in a revisitation of the RMLD Board’s decision, but before they will advise the commissioners do so, they will hold another vote on March 8, following the recommendation of CAB Chairman Arthur Carakatsane of Lynnfield, who indicated, that, in his opinion, the CAB has done its job with regards to public input.
“The Committee sought input from the various town administrators and boards, through various channels,” he said in a telephone interview. “We got a mountain of input at our Jan. 5 meeting, and, normally, that would be enough ... We don’t always go back to town administrators and boards on every issue. That’s pretty normal ... My assumption would be that most didn’t really discuss it.”
Carakatsane noted the CAB votes on matters with far more money at stake than with the RECs on an “extremely regular basis.”
Former CAB member Fred Van Magness, of Reading, said that it is largely up to each individual member as to how much input they solicit from their Board of Selectmen and town administrators, but, in his opinion, unique matters, such as Renewable Energy Certificates, should be put before the various boards for input.
“As a representative on the CAB, you have to make those personal decisions when you think there is a need for broader based input on substantive issues,” said Van Magness, who also indicated the approach to doing so can vary significantly. “There is nothing written as to the exact methods the reps must or should take other than they are there to look out for the best interest of their towns.”
RMLD Board of Commissioners member Bob Soli did bring the RECs issue before the Reading Board of Selectmen back on Dec. 20, 2011, and according to Van Magness, that should have triggered other CAB members to do the same in their towns.
While stopping short of characterizing the CAB as a “rogue” board, acting on its own agenda as some have suggested, Van Magness did say that he thinks the CAB could have done a better job gathering public input.
“Most board members on the numerous boards across our four towns act in what they believe are the best interests of their constituency,” he said. “But on this issue, the CAB could and should have done better in getting input.”
The next step will be a further gathering of input, prior to the CAB actually voting to reverse, or uphold, its earlier position on the RECs, and according to Carakatsane, it is his belief that “at least three of the four towns appear to be in favor of something other than retiring the RECs.
For some, such as West, concern remains that even if the CAB does vote to overturn its previous ruling, the RMLD Board may still hold fast to its earlier position to retire the RECs. Something she feels is not in the best interests of ratepayers. She also indicated that, in her opinion, some RMLD Board members may be voting with their own agendas in mind.
“If you look at the people who are on these committees, there is a heavy weighting towards people who are in favor of climate control,” she said. “I don’t think that’s a problem, but I do think it’s a problem if that is their only agenda.
“The policy regarding what the board is supposed to do says that their goal is to represent the ratepayers best interests and secure the best rates for the ratepayers, and the decision to retire the RECs in really not in line with that.”
Whatever happens now, it seems clear that we have not heard the last of this issue. Should the CAB opt to overturn its decision at its March 8 meeting, it will, presumably, then present its input to the RMLD Board a second time, at which point, there could be a motion to reconsider put forth by the commissioners—which would have to come from one of the three members who voted to retire the RECs. If the CAB chooses to hold firm to its earlier recommendation, then it seems likely that no vote to reconsider will occur. Van Magness said he considers input from the various towns to be vital to this process.
He also noted that any fault for a lack of consultation does not lie solely at the feet of the advisory board members.
“It is really up to the local Boards of Selectmen to establish how and what they want from communications by their CAB rep,” he said. “Some may want a lot, others may want essentially none. It should be up to the boards to decide how they want their rep to function. When I served, the BOS at the time wanted the quarterly feedbacks. Had this been in place now, the issue would have had much more visibility ...
“The outcome may have been the same, but the communications would and should have been more robust,” he added. “So there is a dual responsibility with the various Boards of Selectmen initially setting what they want and the CAB member figuring when they need to get some added input on items that are out of the ordinary.”
The CAB is comprised of one representative from each client town of the RMLD, except for Wilmington, which has two reps, one for residential and one for commercial customers, because of the large commercial base in that town. The RMLD Board of Commissioners is voted on solely by Reading voters, as the utility is part of Reading’s governmental structure and the town underwrites any debt incurred by the RMLD.