Candidate Q & A: Lisa Wolf, Light Commission

The following represents the candidate’s responses to the Current’s Light Commission-specific questions. Jump back to Election Guide

Years in Marblehead: A fourth-generation Marbleheader with family roots dating back to the early 1900s, my husband and I re-settled here in 2016. 

Occupation/education: Master’s degree in environmental engineering. Sustainability coordinator for the town of Wellesley’s Municipal Light Plant, previously formal and informal science educator; environmental engineer.
Appointed positions and/or elected offices: Elected to the Light Commission in 2020; elected vice-chair in 2022.

What are the most significant issues facing the Light Department, and how would you address them if elected? The Light Department is not prepared for the electrification required for Marblehead to reach its net-zero carbon emissions goals, due to lack of planning and resistance to inevitable change. The distribution system of poles, wires and transformers suffers from 25+ years of deferred maintenance and is ‘crumbling’ in the words of our new distribution manager. Yet there has been no plan in place to modernize our infrastructure to meet the potential doubling of demand that is predicted. This is penny-wise, pound-foolish policy. We have just now contracted for new primary switchgear and transformers to replace the existing 70-year-old equipment. Waiting until the situation was critical has added $2 million and at least a year delay due to supply chain and inflationary factors.

Since the new majority was elected in July 2022, the Board has begun the work of planning for rebuilding our system to meet present and future demand. To do this work, we need an accurate demand forecast and a five-year capital maintenance plan. We also need to develop a demand management plan that addresses the high cost and carbon emissions from peak energy use. Customers need to be aware of the impact of the timing of their energy use, and given tools to help manage it. Beefing up the department’s communication channels will be critical to accomplishing this.

For years now, there has been an ongoing discussion about the installation of solar panels on public buildings. Do you feel this is a good move? Why or why not? I support the installation of solar on public buildings. Adding local renewable energy has many benefits: 1) reduced transmission charges; 2) reduced load on the distribution system; 3) increasing the Light Department’s renewable energy portfolio; 4) improving energy independence; 5) improving resilience from outages, especially when paired with batteries.

Municipal solar that is developed as community solar is also a great way to accommodate people who for many possible reasons cannot install solar on their own roof, but want to invest in solar and receive the economic benefits.

How can the Light Department reduce its dependence on fossil fuels? Our portfolio is currently 42% carbon-free energy, which is a combination of nuclear, hydro and solar. We also own wind energy, but sell the environmental attributes, referred to as renewable energy credits or RECs, to investor-owned utilities that need our RECs to meet their clean-energy requirements. If we stopped selling the RECs, our portfolio would be 47% carbon-free. Our plan to reach the state-mandated 50% carbon-free by 2030 includes adding nuclear, adding solar on municipal buildings, and we’re counting on offshore wind before the end of the decade. Due to a recently resolved dispute over bringing hydro through Maine, that may also become available soon. There’s much more uncertainty projecting to 2040, but one thing we know will be very important is demand management technology. Shifting demand away from peak demand hours will be very important as we have learned from the controversial Peabody Peaker Plant.

Some people believe there’s a divide in the Light Department between those who favor traditional methods and those pushing for more environmentally-friendly practices. Do you agree with this view? If so, how would you propose to bring these two sides together?

That is a false divide. If I am on one-side of a divide I would describe it as a team of active, engaged commissioners looking for the most equitable, economic, science-based pathway forward to meet our carbon-emissions reduction goals. I don’t know what the other side is.

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