Madison Town Hall Meeting on Electric Utility Draws Comments, Questions About Costs and Benefits

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MADISON, NJ – The Borough of Madison is one of just nine towns in New Jersey to have its own electric utility, Mayor Robert Conley told about 40 residents at the Aug. 6 Town Hall meeting.

He also pointed out that the surplus generated resulted in a $693.80 savings on the average home’s property taxes last year. The utility generated a surplus of $3,516,000.

“We’re able to generate revenue from organizations that don’t pay property taxes, such as Drew University,” he said during a powerpoint presentation. Borough Councilman Vincent Esposito reviewed the history of Madison’s utility, which started in the late 1800s with a facility on Station Road, where the Water and Light Station were located.

Although the current system is handled the “old fashioned way,” with meter readers recording information with paper and pencil, there is discussion about automated metering with variable rates.  Esposito has encouraged residents to reduce usage at peak times of day, between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Assistant Business Administrator James Burnet said that individuals could opt out of the automated system, but would pay a service charge and might have a higher rate structure. “The vast majority of people have had no ill effects,” he said. He noted that use of a cell phone or Iphone is likely to generate more health issues.

The system serves over 6,500 customers, from residential to corporations. The borough has two substations and nearly 300 miles of underground and overhead cables. Although the downtown utilities are underground, that is not true throughout Madison. One resident asked if that would change. Conley said no, it’s too expensive and could mean the removal of trees. He said new developments and corporate locations have underground utilities.

Benefits include the dedicated linemen, who respond quickly and safely; aggressive trimming that minimizes outages; and quick coordinated response from utility linemen, police and public works, which shortens outage times.  A pie chart demonstrated the impact of the electric utility at 41%, relative to the municipal budget at 54% and the water utility at 5%.

Goals include a full asset management review, including review of equipment and infrastructure, with age, condition and replacement cost; automated meter reading; the ability to see and manage your consumption from computer, home display or smart  phone; and building the borough’s own generation plant with solar or wind power.

Conley and Espositio posed several questions for discussion. Among them: Is Madison a better place because of our electric utility? The majority of people at the meeting agreed that selling the utility would not be an option.

One person said, “Where would you pick that money back up that’s made from the surplus?” Another person asked: “Can we afford to do this?”

Burnet said a company lease over a 10 year period would be possible with funds generated by the utility. He said the cost/benefit analysis shows a 3.5 to 6 year payback.

Another question: Should we pursue smart meters and our own generation plants?

Several people said that solar panels should be explored, as well as making better use of parking lots and flat roofed buildings.

A third question centered on Madison becoming a leading environmental town to advance sustainability.  Again, most agreed that Madison’s electric utility was a good starting point for smart energy conservation.

Conley noted that council members at the meeting were there as “sponges” to absorb the comments, suggestions and questions. He said a town hall meeting will be held in October regarding the capital budget process.

 

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