Hardwick Electric Finalizing Rate Increase Request

by Gazette Staff

HARDWICK – The Hardwick Select Board meeting on December 15 had a shortened agenda since Road Foreman Tom Fadden and Interim Police Chief Mike Henry were unable to attend the meeting.

Town Manager David Upson’s report was the first presentation of the meeting. Upson stated that one of the fire ladder trucks needs a significant repair, estimated to cost $40,000. There was discussion about paying for the repair from fire department capital funds. The board wanted to avoid using capital funds, as those have been set aside for the purchase of future trucks so the town does not have to approve a bond for them. The board voted to repair the engine ladder truck by overspending the fire equipment repair line.
In his report, Upson also described two future grant opportunities. Community Development Coordinator Tracy Martin spoke about the grant opportunities: a Better Connections grant to support a Village Center designation for East Hardwick, and a Downtown Transportation grant to provide additional funds for the pedestrian bridge. The board consensus was to pursue both grants.
The Hardwick Electric Department (HED) report was given by HED Commissioner Nat Smith. Smith reported that HED revenues are 1.2% under budget and expenses are over budget by 5.4% due to prices of purchased power running 13% more than expected.

Smith reported that HED continues to have supply chain issues. For example, orders for transformers used to have a lead time of eight to 12 weeks for delivery; quotes are now coming in at 44 weeks, or more. The price has almost tripled from what it was two years ago.
Smith also noted that HED has not had a rate increase request in 13 years. HED’s filing for a rate increase will be finalized in the next few days. It is expected to be about 14%.
Smith said that the Wolcott Hydro has generated 2.6 million megawatt hours in 2022 and the H11 solar field has generated 2.2 million megawatt hours this year. These sources have supplied about 16% of total customer electricity demand.
Smith also provided an update on previous select board discussion about automated metering infrastructure (AMI). HED commissioners continue to evaluate a possible AMI project, which would involve an investment of more than $1 million. Smith said that there is regulatory pressure to make the investment, and that there is grant money available that would pay for almost half of the project.
HED is also evaluating a stored energy project which would be built next to the H11 solar on Billings Road. This would be a 4-plus megawatt battery to reduce HED’s peak demands and, possibly, generate revenue.
Next, the select board discussed where to hold next year’s town meeting, at the elementary school or the Town House. The board decided to hold the next town meeting at the elementary school, with a plan for 2024 Town Meeting to be held at the Town House. This would allow time for work to be completed on ADA compliance issues and fire egress at the Town House.
Heather Carrington from Carrington Community Development Services (CCDS) joined the meeting via Zoom to go over the Memorandum of Understanding between the town and the Hardwick Downtown Partnership. Carrington is the consultant who has been working with the Downtown Commission to earn a formal Downtown Designation. The board voted to approve the Memorandum
of Understanding with the Hardwick Downtown Partnership Inc. and to authorize the town manager to sign the document.

In a related vote, the board approved the allocation of 19% of town water-wastewater reserves to downtown revitalization. This currently equals 46,375 gallons per day.
Jessie Upson and Kristine Burke came to follow up with the board about their Hardwick Community Collaborative concept. The town already owns the proposed site for the initiative (the senior center side of the public safety building). They presented a proposal for how the town can help financially support the start-up of this community center.
There was discussion of some unresolved issues and board vice chair Ceilidh Galloway-Kane suggested that the town manager’s office continue to work with Upson and Burke on the topic.
Norma Spaulding from the Trails Committee came to present the proposed Trails FY24 budget. The proposed budget shows an increase of just under $1,800, or 19.81%. The increases are primarily due to insurance and programs -activities.
Jodi Lew-Smith and Daphne Kalmar, library trustees, came to present the proposed Library FY24 budget. The proposed library budget would increase about $22,000, or 17.5%, due to health insurance costs associated with a new library director. The library plans to use some of their existing fund balance, as well.
The board voted to provide a letter of support for a Friends of the Jeudevine Library’s grant application after the community development coordinator and town manager have seen the narrative for the grant.
Lew-Smith also provided an update on the library’s expansion project. She shared that the library has hired a construction manager, who should keep the costs down by negotiating with sub-contractors to get the best price. Library trustees expect the expansion will cost between $2.6 and $2.8 million. They are waiting to hear from the Department of Libraries about $600,000 they are hoping to receive.
Select Board Chair Eric Remick reported that the bid deadline for the Yellow Barn project has been extended to January 19 to bring in more bidders.