Opinion: Laura Burns for Light Board – a vision for the 21 st century

May 15, 2021, Submitted by Kathy Reardon, Bill Reardon, Katie Sutton, Ellen Whalen, Anthony George, Heidi Ragone, Susan Randall Harbert, Louise Smith, John Borger, John Deeley, Michael Reive, Clayton Handleman, Patti Coyle, Jo-An Heileman, Turner Bledsoe, Elliott Place, Brad Carr, and Ben Kerman – members of Hingham Net Zero

We ask Hingham citizens to cast your votes for Laura Burns for Hingham Light Board this Saturday, May 22.

Hingham Light has a tremendous record of delivering reliable electricity affordably, and it’s what we all love about it. But big challenges for the light plant are ahead. The Town of Hingham has begun the process of creating a climate action plan, which will surely call for shifts from fossil fuels to electricity powered by renewable sources, meaning a tremendous leap in demand, and a challenge to make sure that energy is carbon-free.

We think Laura is the best candidate for the light board because in addition to her commitment to reliable, affordable electricity, she has a plan for dealing with the challenges ahead, and the skills to carry it out. Read on.

Last fall, our light board added a commitment to sustainable operations and a goal of 100% carbon-free energy to its mission statement, which is a great start. And there are some incentives to help customers reduce their carbon footprint, but they are not at all well-publicized, and there is no technical assistance available from the light plant to help customers make informed decisions.

We need a plan to meet the energy challenges of the next decades, and Laura’s plan has three parts.

  1. Seek out renewable power contracts to replace fossil fuels in our power portfolio. The light plant has made a good start – over 50% of our electricity is carbon-free, as it stands now. Some of this is low-hanging fruit, though. The closer we get to our goal, the harder it will be to arrive. Laura is following opportunities developing now, including everything from the massive off-shore wind farms which are about to be constructed off our coast, to Hull’s potential creation of more local wind power and even, possibly, tidal energy generation. The good news is that renewable energy prices are competitive now with fossil-fuel energy, so this need not raise rates. It’s a matter of finding the sources we need, and Laura is dedicated to that goal.
  2. Create a package of incentives along with coaching for residents and businesses to help with the transition away from fossil fuels, and proactively engage the community. This is a role the light board has never played before. The board could become “electrification ambassadors,” helping the town, the commercial sector, and individual homeowners figure out how best to make their own changes. The light board should offer a cohesive set of well-thought-out incentives for customers to transition to electricity for their power needs, and (this would be new) make available professional assistance to guide customers in making their choices. The light plant would need to devote resources to publicity and promotion of the program, which is also something the light plant doesn’t currently do.
  3. Network with other municipal light boards to learn about best practices and discuss policy. Speaking of things our light board doesn’t currently do... while the professional managers of municipal light plants meet every month, the elected or appointed light board members tend to stay in their silos. This doesn’t serve their citizens very well. For the last four years, Laura has worked to create a statewide network of light board members and activists that now covers 30 of the 41 towns owning municipal light plants, and which meets regularly to share insights and best practices. If you follow Laura’s videos on Facebook (@LauraBurnsLightBoard), you would meet members of other light boards, talking about innovative programs which are already in place in their towns, and which have never even been discussed by our board. It makes sense that we can all learn from each other.

Laura’s experience in public service equips her well for carrying out her plan. She served two terms on the Select Board, helping to shepherd the town through the challenges of the great recession. She also served two terms on the Advisory Committee, including as chair, as well as the Capital Outlay Committee and the Affordable Housing Trust. She is already years-deep into research and citizen activism with municipal light boards across the state. As a result, she has a grasp of the challenges ahead, some of which have never yet been discussed in any detail by our current light board.

Everyone loves our Hingham Light Plant. They meet their goal of reliable, affordable electricity with flying colors. Will they rise to the occasion and assist everyone in Hingham to lower their carbon footprint? Please vote to put Laura Burns on the light board on Saturday, May 22, and we’ll get started.

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