Apr 262014
This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series 2014 Election

The Electric Light Commission is an independent board overseeing the operation of the Groton Electric Light Department, the town-owned electric utility. This year, veteran Commissioner Chris Christie has decided not to run for re-election for another three-year term. The open seat is being contested by Bruce Easom and Olin Lathrop. Rodney R. Hersh and Kevin J. Lindemer are the two incumbent commissioners. GELD Manager Kevin Kelly reports to the commissioners.

GELD and its commissioners have come into conflict with the town over the lengthy and costly permitting process for the utility’s new garage and office building on Station Avenue. One particular point of contention was with the Conservation Commission over the legal identification and location of wetlands and buffer areas on GELD’s Station Avenue lots.

Now resolved and with construction of the building beginning this spring, a lingering reminder of the conflict was the GELD commissioner’s decision in to withhold half of a voluntary payment in lieu of taxes to the town last year (fiscal year 2014). The GELD board, after urging from the Board of Selectmen, recently voted to make a $30,000 payment this (2015) fiscal year, returning the payment to the level it had been in previous years.

Candidate’s Night

Meet the candidates at Candidate’s Night, May 8 at 7:30 p.m. in the Black Box Theater at Groton-Dunstable Regional High School on Chickopee Row. Candidate’s Night is sponsored by Groton’s Democratic and Republican Town Committees.

The Groton Line Candidate Questionnaire

Electric Light Commission Candidates 2014

Candidate NameBruce H. EasomOlin Lathrop

Bruce Easom

Olin Lathrop

Olin Lathrop

Office SoughtElectric Light CommissionElectric Light Commission
Are you the incumbent office holder?NoNo
Candidate address435 Martins Pond Rd55 Sunset Road
Candidate townGrotonGroton
Phone(978) 448-9190(978) 742-9014
Web site URLnonehttp://www.embedinc.com/olin
How old are you?5957
When did you take up residence in Groton?19951985
Party affiliationRepublican PartyUndeclared
Academic degrees / training -- please enter one per line.ScD Mechanical Engineering, MIT, 1992

MS Mechanical Engineering, MIT, 1986

MS Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, MIT, 1986

BS United States Merchant Marine Academy, 1978
Master of Engineering, electrical engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, May 1980.
If you're currently employed, what is your "day job" or vocation(s)?Process design in electric power generation industry and in mining and metals industriesConsulting electrical engineer via my own company, Embed Inc, in Littleton
Family information -- married, divorced, number of kids, etc.Married, no kids.Married since 1985, 1 son, who graduated GDRHS in 2008
Please outline your experience in the public sector or community service, including elective or appointed offices.I am currently serving on the following appointed boards:
  • Conservation Commission

  • Community Preservation Committee

  • Zoning Board of Appeals

  • Williams Barn Committee

  • Green Communities Act Research Committee

I previously served as member of the following appointed boards:
  • 2012 Master Plan Transportation Subcommittee

  • Community Preservation Act Research Committee

  • Trails Committee

Volunteered regularly over the last 29 years to do trail work for various organizations in town, like the Groton Conservation Trust, NEFF, the Trails Committee, etc.Was treasurer of the committee to get the Community Preservation Act passed, which was passed to the full extent here in Groton.

Was a founder of GDSTEM, an organization that promotes science and math education for ages K-12 in the GD area. Organized a monthly lecture series, and helped coordinate various extra-curricular events for GD students. Served as chair for two years.

Appointed member of the Groton Trails Committee since June 2012.
What personal quality do you think is your strongest asset?I am quick to volunteer when I see something that needs to get done.I try not to jump to conclusions, but get all the facts first, then make an informed decision. There are always two (or more) sides to every issue.
Why did you decide to run for this office?I think it is important to have an Electric Light Commissioner that is also a member of other boards, committees and commissions in Town. Sometimes in Town government it seems that the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing. Coordination is an important component of efficient municipal government.With my son out of the house, I have more time in my life to get involved with the community. I have always had an interest in our electric infrastructure and how it was run. With the incumbent commissioner not seeking re-election, this is the perfect time for me to step up and contribute.
What is the single most important issue facing the town and how would you address it from this office? OR What is the most important issue facing this board?The most important issue facing the Groton Electric Light Department is the volatility in electricity markets as the industry undergoes an unprecedented shift away from coal and toward natural gas.

An even greater challenge on the horizon will be the transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewables in the coming carbon-limited world. Commissioners will be dealing with both price and supply volatility for the foreseeable future.
There are a number of issues in town, but the Electric Light Department (GELD) is set up as a separate and largely independent entity, so I'll address issues facing it.

First and foremost, GELD's job is to keep the lights on and the rates low, and they are currently doing this very well. The job of the commissioners is to ensure that sound management practises are followed to continue this into the future, both in the short and long term.

This is an exciting time for GELD, since beyond everyday operations, there are more major projects going on than any time in recent decades. The new facility on Station Ave has finally been permitted and construction has started. 1 Mega-Watt of solar generation is being planned right here in Groton, and an additional 3-phase feeder is being contemplated.

The ultimate goal of all these projects is to provide the infrastructure to continue providing the great service we all enjoy. Nobody can know for sure what comes ahead, so GELD has to go with reasonable projections and plan to be able to withstand some unforseen events, like major ice storms, change in fuel availability to power plants, and the regulatory environment. I don't know what challenges the Light Department will face in the future, but I look forward to helping work our way through them.
How would you improve or contribute to the Electric Light Commission?My twenty years of experience developing and testing new environmental technologies for Georgia Power and Alabama Power have provided me with insight into the economics and mindset of some of the largest electric power generating companies in America. I will be able to provide the generating company perspective to the other GELD Commissioners as they formulate a power purchase strategy in an uncertain market.As an engineer, I am used to gathering the facts before making decisions, and to keep emotional issues out of them. This kind of discipline is important in good planning and direction-setting.
What other issues are important and how would you address them?In general, GELD is functioning well and doing a great job of keeping the lights on and the rates low. How long was your power out after the last ice storm? Now compare that to other towns in the area and across the region. Compare what you are paying for electricity to other towns and cities across the state. Our power costs are consistently toward the low end compared to other municipal utilities, and across the board below those in places served by the large investor-owned utilities.

All this doesn't happen by accident. Groton is in this position today thanks to good decisions made over the last decades. I am not looking to change this, but to continue this tradition of careful and sound planning that has been serving us well.

There is one current issue that does need some attention. The permitting process for the new facility on Station Ave was rather long and contentious, and resulted in some ill feelings between GELD and other officials of our town. There were some mistakes made and unfortunate things said and done on both sides, and each side can make a case how it was treated unfairly.

It is time to put this behind us. The town has acknowledged things that could be better in some of its processes, and has made changes as a result. GELD would also approach the process differently today. Lessons have been learned and changes have been made, so now we need to come together in a renewed spirit of cooperation and leave any hard feelings in the past. I am in a good position to facilitate this since I was not personally involved in the process. I have respect for each of the individuals trying to do their jobs as they felt was best for our community, especially considering most of them are volunteers. We are all in this together. One of my goals will be to "patch up" the relationship between GELD and town officials.
Does Town Meeting have a role in setting town policy or strategic direction, or is that solely up to the affected elected board? Can the BoS or other elected boards ignore articles and directions approved in Town Meeting?The Town's strategic directions are laid out in the Master Plan, the Open Space and Recreation Plan, the Affordable Housing Production Plan, among others. These documents are prepared by the respective boards and committees after the largest outreach effort that the Town makes to solicit public input. The plans are approved by Town Meeting. They represent the will of the residents of Groton as best we can discern it. Elected officials can ignore articles and directions approved at Town Meeting but they should not be surprised if they find that they have opposition when their term is up. Free and fair elections can cure all sorts of institutional ills.I am not a lawyer, so I don't know exactly what can and can't be decided at Town Meeting and how binding it is.

In any case, the Electric Light Department is largely independent from the rest of the town political structure. This has served us well in the past, and I don't think we should be seeking to change this. Of course this makes it even more important to choose the commissioners wisely. You pick good competent people who you then trust to delve into the issues and make informed and reasoned decision - at least until the next election.
What else would you tell Groton voters?If you have never been to Town meeting, please plan to come once and stay for just an hour. Watching taxpayers vote to determine how they will be spending their own money is marvelous. Hopefully some will be hooked and stay to participate at the nI think I've babbled on enough already.

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