Four of the six TMLP candidates squared off Thursday night in a forum that focused on ways to meet the state's renewable energy standards while holding the line on rates.
“We’re all concerned about the environment but we’re also concerned about paying our bills…It is a delicate balance,” said longtime Taunton Municipal Lighting Plant Commissioner Mark Blackwell.
Commissioner Joe Martin said he expects rapid improvements in technology to be a game changer.
The first computer in the Taunton school system in the 1970s cost $8,000 and had just 16 kilobytes of memory, he said. Now, we measure computing power in terabytes, he said.
“I think the same thing is going to happen with renewable energy and, because of the urgency with the environment, I think it’s going to happen faster than with computers,” said Martin, who served as assistant superintendent of administration and finance for the Taunton School Department for many years.
Thursday’s forum was sponsored by TCAM TV and the Taunton Daily Gazette and was held at TCAM’s studio on Ingell Street, with Bob Jacobs serving as moderator. The panelists were WVBF AM host and producer Bob Folcik and myself, Taunton Daily Gazette Regional City Editor Rebecca Hyman.
In addition to Blackwell and Martin, challenger Timothy J. Hebert and Commissioner Peter J. Corr participated in the forum. Corr is not officially listed as an incumbent on the November ballot because he was appointed to complete the unexpired term of his father, Peter Corr, when he recently stepped down. Challengers Lawrence E. Newman Jr. and David Westcoat did not participate.
In response to a question about whether TMLP should lobby for a loosening of restrictions on nuclear power as a renewable alternative to fossil fuels, Blackwell didn’t rule out the option.
But he cautioned, “It is a cheap way of producing power but very expensive to build and very difficult to get permitted.”
Corr, who is a Taunton police detective, said he would be in favor of exploring the option.
“If it’s possible and it’s going to be the cheapest way to get power and energy, sure, why not?” Corr said. “(But) a lot of guidelines would have to be put in place to build these things up to par and up to code.”
Hebert, who is the chief operating officer of Energy New England, a municipal light plant cooperative made up of light departments in Taunton, Braintree, Concord, Hingham and Wellesley, said nuclear power is more efficient than other non-fossil fuel options.
“If we’re serious about carbon I think it’s difficult to say no to nuclear,” Hebert said.
Martin said it is inevitable that rates will rise due to the state's Clean Energy Standard, which requires utilities to achieve 80 percent renewables by 2050. He said it is the commission’s job to make sure that happens slowly, and TMLP is ahead of the game, with more renewable in its portfolio at this point than required.
“I don’t think you’ll see a significant increase from one year to the next,” Martin said.
In response to a question whether TMLP should try to get the state to loosen restrictions on trash-to-energy incinerators given the looming closure of the city’s landfill, Corr said he would enthusiastically pursue that option if elected.
“I would love to see that…I think if something could be loosened up, it would be a great savings for taxpayers and rate payers and for the city,” Corr said.
Blackwell said he too would support a waste-to-energy facility.
“It would solve a couple of problems. The dump is getting full as everybody knows. We could not only burn the trash but also collect tipping fees. That’s like someone buying the fuel for you,” Blackwell said.
But Hebert said trash-to-energy facilities are very difficult to permit, are relatively expensive to build and have relatively high operating costs.
“I think from a societal perspective we’d have to really think about where those costs go and if it’s not a backdoor tax,” Hebert said.
Martin said, “I’m sure it’s a permitting problem, number one. And number two, to my knowledge no one (from the city) has come to us with a plan.”
The election is Tuesday, Nov. 5.