Chris Perry Column: That's Real Money

Chris Perry •

Originally, the primary goal was to get National Grid a seat back in the conversation. Frankly, since 2017, they really haven’t had much more than a stool to sit on at Nantucket’s table.

Perhaps, that’s a good thing. But with roughly 10 months left for Lauren to go “shopping,” let’s hope Christmas comes early again for over 14,000 electricity accounts on Nantucket.

Lauren is Lauren Sinatra and she is the town of Nantucket’s energy coordinator. Lauren first came to Nantucket via Woodbridge, Conn., and Tufts University in 2005 during the summer months, a time highlighted by waitressing stints at The Muse, The Westender, and the Lobster Trap before leaving the island for a full-time gig in the corporate world of consulting on environmental strategies.

Lauren Sinatra

In 2011, a one-year grant position focusing on the island’s energy use and funded by ReMain Nantucket caught Lauren’s eye as a way to return to Nantucket full-time.

“Obviously, I was familiar with the island but I did wonder how bad can the winters be on Nantucket,” said Sinatra who secured the position.

Sinatra’s immediate success through energy savings programs resulted in ReMain extending its funding for two more years followed by an additional two-year energy manager grant through the state Department of Energy Resources. Eventually, that led to a full-time position with the town of Nantucket in 2014.

“Initially, I felt Nantucket was not being served well by the state’s energy efficiency programs or third-party electricity suppliers,” Sinatra said.

“One of my top priorities was to revitalize our relationship with National Grid and to bring Mass Save services back to Nantucket. Additionally, I wanted to offer Nantucket residents alternatives to National Grid’s basic service supply rates. As a small regional market, Nantucket was not attracting market competition from supply companies. Those that were selling to Nantucket residents were often deceitful with predatory ‘bait & switch’ tactics that often took advantage of local ratepayers, especially our seniors,” Sinatra added.

After recommending community choice aggregation to the town in 2015 as a way of providing greater competition, municipal aggregation was unanimously approved at the 2016 Annual Town Meeting (Article 104). Going a step further, the town’s energy coordinator helped produce the town of Nantucket’s Municipal Aggregation Plan which was approved by the state Department of Public Utilities in 2017. This effort included Sinatra testifying in Boston on behalf of the Nantucket ratepayers.

“I started looking for options - something with better transparency - and with the possibility of negotiating different lengths of a contract that better fit with Nantucket’s unique place in the market,” said Sinatra.

Her responsibilities also included gauging dips and trends in the electricity market to help strategically lock in long-term rates for Nantucket PowerChoice customers. More specifically, since 2017, four separate multi-year contracts with different suppliers have been negotiated.

As of today, PowerChoice customers have roughly 10 months left in a three-year contract with the Rhode Island-based, First Point Power. Currently, that deal services approximately 86 percent of all residential customers on Nantucket and 81.5 percent of all electric customers on Nantucket when factoring in commercial accounts.

Drilling down even more, right now Nantucket PowerChoice residential customers pay 11.065 cents per kilowatt hour. If the customer chooses to use solely “green energy,” that rate slides up to 14.001 cents per kilowatt hour.

In comparison, National Grid’s residential basic service charges 18.213 cents per kilowatt hour through July of this year. That represents a roughly 65 percent higher price than the Nantucket PowerChoice default rate through First Point Power.

Since March of 2017 through December of 2023, Nantucket PowerChoice has saved Nantucket ratepayers approximately $25,266,500. By August of 2024, that number is estimated to be roughly $29.8 million in savings.

That’s real money.

“But, I am nervous,” admitted Sinatra.

“We have been extremely fortunate with the timing of our contract rates which have resulted in significant cost savings for the community. But, the markets are not what they used to be just three years ago. We have set a high bar,” she added.

We should all be nervous.

Recently, Sinatra executed a new municipal contract which reflected a 25 percent to 30 percent increase over the previous contract negotiated in 2020.

“We were lucky to get that especially being able to lock into a three-year contract knowing how volatile energy costs are today,” she added.

Nantucket’s current, residential contract is up in November. And with that, Lauren Sinatra is regularly evaluating the energy markets.

“Not that long ago, I remember watching rates via National Grid spike to 33.665 cents / kWh due to Ukraine, supply chain issues, and the political instability around the globe. Thankfully, we were locked in at 11.065 cents / kWh; but if we were exposed to that type of volatility, it would have been a crippling expense for many on-island,” Sinatra confessed.

Where Sinatra and Nantucket PowerChoice go from here is still up in the air but her recent track record certainly bodes well for Nantucket ratepayers via PowerChoice. Along the way, the Nantucket energy coordinator has delved into a number of initiatives including Nantucket’s designation as a “Green Community,” E.V. charging stations, a solar rebate program totaling over $540,000 to 122 local residents including Cary Hazelgrove being the first in December of 2017.

Additionally, Sinatra and Nantucket PowerChoice are also a “customer.” Since 2017, the Energy Office has annually purchased roughly $5,000 worth of renewable energy credits (RECs) from Nantucket High School’s 100kW wind turbine.

But to be fair, it hasn’t been a perfect connection for the entire run. The energy market is volatile and difficult to forecast. Federal and state influences are unpredictable. Closer to home, there is a citizen’s warrant article for this spring’s Town Meeting that rescinds the building code specifically addressing the stretch energy code for Nantucket.

I would be remiss if I did not admit to bringing up the subject of offshore wind farms during our conversations. Sinatra was well aware of my opposition to this project and the island’s concerns about the potential of a marine disaster as well as the unreasonable expectations placed on the Nantucket community through the Good Neighbor Agreement. With the Select Board, the Maria Mitchell Association, and the Nantucket Preservation Trust all on record in support of Vineyard Wind, this could potentially put the town’s energy coordinator in the crosshairs of an inevitable island-wide debate as local residents watch their visual horizons being scarred and Nantucket’s National Historic designation being sold off to the highest bidder in the name of “clean energy.”

But for now, that discussion is for another time and for another column because, with these types of savings through Nantucket PowerChoice, it’s hard to argue that Sinatra’s programs haven’t accomplished what Jerry Maguire did for Rod Tidwell……

She showed us the money.

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