Powering into the Future

            Marion’s Energy Management Committee has been trying for the better part of a year to have a charging station installed across Front Street from the Music Hall where people park for Island Wharf. But based on information discussed at its April 26 Zoom meeting, the EMC seems to be caught in a loop.

            Island Wharf cannot charge at 40 amps and needs a power upgrade requiring an application to Eversource, but the location has been deemed ineligible because there are not enough charging stations to warrant the upgrade. Meanwhile, the nearest transformer that can power the charging stations and the nearby buildings is too far away.

            Board of Selectmen Chair Randy Parker, Facilities Manager Shaun Cormier, and Town Planner Gil Hilario visited Island Wharf with Eversource, and it was determined that the transformer on location does not have the necessary power.

            “The upgrade might be very expensive. [It’s] unpleasant news, but I hope the town will still pursue it,” said Hilario, citing the proposed new Harbormaster facility, associated projects, and the potential need for an article on a future Town Meeting warrant.

            EMC Chair Christian Ingerslev suggested the threat of brownouts on the proposed Maritime Center is a real possibility that should “piggyback” the argument for a power upgrade. Hilario said he has been thinking along the same lines.

            The growing interest in constructing solar panel canopies over parking areas raised the question as to Marion’s contractual agreement with Future Generation Wind. Hilario called it a “complicated question” and said McGrail and town counsel are looking into the matter.

            The town recently received a $6,000 check from Future Generation Wind, according to EMC member Bill Saltonstall. “We’re up to $389,000 saved to the town,” he said.

            Cormier, said Hilario, is placing 30 amp signs at the Town House and added that the signs are need everywhere in town.

            The Town House will also need a power upgrade to accommodate the new ventilation system planned this year.

            Marion’s use of electric cars, including police cruisers, remains an agenda item for the MRC, whose member Tom Friedman received positive albeit delayed feedback from an officer. “He was extremely doubtful as to its capabilities, but since getting it he’s had positive things to say…. It’s worked out really well,” said Friedman.

            MRC member Alanna Nelson noted that McGrail is working on updating hybrid car leases and that a fully electric Ford F-150 pickup truck is scheduled for release in 2022. “We should connect with Jay to identify his needs…. We can save money getting it,” said Nelson, describing the MRC’s assistance as a “win-win for us.”

            MRC member Robert Fisher viewed a state seminar on electric vehicles that addressed the F-150 model but said, “Nothing was mentioned about putting a snowplow on them, which everybody needs to do.”

            According to MRC member Jennifer Francis, Marion had four electric vehicles, traded them in, and acquired three more. Saltonstall questioned if Marion is limited to just four electric cars.

            The wastewater treatment plant is being targeted as a place needing significant updating and upgrades, but it is unlikely that gas will be in play. Only one or two buildings on Benson Brook Road are interested in gas, making a switch too expensive. In a site visit, Eversource did not encourage a switch to gas, according to Saltonstall and Hilario.

            Saltonstall described the computer system as “antique … it really is an obsolete system,” he said, noting the possibility of dealing with an engineer who works with wastewater treatment plants.

            While Marion was recently encouraged as to viability of the plant’s technology, potential regionalization of sewer systems was discussed by the EMC. Hilario said regionalization would take 15 years to enact, and that remains a “big if.”

            Gas has been far more successful than diesel at Bridgewater State University, according to Fisher. Recognizing the low probability for Benson Brook, Fisher said Bridgewater State never lost gas service through Winter Storm Nemo in 2013. He added that the loss of electricity would delay the restart of a diesel-fueled generator and that its batteries would need to be huge.

            Given that energy management is being increasingly driven by concerns over climate change, Nelson asked if the EMC should consider calling itself the “Energy and Climate Committee,” for example. Ingerslev suggested it is the town’s committee and it would need to decide, likely via a proposal to the Board of Selectmen.

            The next meeting of the Marion Energy Management Committee is scheduled for June 7 at 5:00 pm.

Marion Energy Management Committee

By Mick Colageo

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