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Berlin leaders lobby for help on utility regs

Meeting with legislators concentrates on savings

By Ally Lanasa, Staff Writer

(Dec. 24, 2020) The Berlin Mayor and Council held a work session virtually with District 38 legislators last Thursday to discuss the electric utility’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards, the multi-purpose building on Flower Street and covid-19 funding and resources to the town.

Mayor Zackery Tyndall

Berlin’s electric utility, which has 10 employees, is one of five municipal electric utilities in the state.

“The way that we operate is a peak-shaving plant, so when times of electricity rates are high, we generate locally rated off of William St., and that saves the taxpayers and our customers about $550,000 a year,” said Mayor Zackery Tyndall.

Tyndall added that the department is consistently recognized by American Municipal Power for low outage times and prompt customer service.

In the past fiscal year, the town has made infrastructure improvements of the electricity utility, including the purchase and installation of a CAT G3520 Genset natural gas generator for $2.5 million to replace a diesel generator and applying for a grant through Maryland Energy Administration for a 48 kWh rooftop solar system on the electric substation on Schoolfield Street.

“We have five generators total, so we’re looking at some ways we can possibly replace those moving forward,” Tyndall said.

As for the current Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards, Tyndall said “municipal electric utilities are forced to purchase an increased percentage of renewable energy credits, or RECs, annually.”

“For the five municipal electric utilities, we only equal a little over one percent of the state’s entire electric usage and customer base,” he said. “This places us at a disadvantage when we’re out on the market, competing against larger co-ops and for-profit companies for these renewable energy credits on the open market, and those are passed along in the form of higher costs to our customers.”

The Town Council agreed in November to support Senate Bill 0677 and House Bill 1392 and provide a financial share for a lobbyist to help pass legislation to cap the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards for the five municipal electric utilities.

“There’s similar caps already in place for some of the larger co-ops in the state,” Tyndall said. “If we were successful with this cap on the [Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards], we’re looking for the taxpayers of Berlin and our electric utility customers at a little over $2 million in savings from 2021-2030, and that translates to about $200,000 a year in savings that we can pass along to our customer base.”

With last year’s General Assembly session cut short because of covid-19, the bill never made it to the Senate, but was passed in the House.

For the 2021 legislative session, Tyndall asked Delegate Charles Otto (R-38A), Delegate Wayne Hartman (R-38C) and Maryland State Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38) to support the bill for the town’s benefit.

Town Attorney David Gaskill also explained to the council and the District 38 delegation that Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards were passed, targeting private, for-profit electric companies.

“For some reason, the co-ops got opted out to pay less, but the five municipality electric companies did not,” Gaskill said. “So, we’re being treated like we’re BGE.”

Berlin’s electric utility is not operated as a for-profit business.

Then, Tyndall shared the goals for the Berlin Community Center Project at the Multipurpose Building on Flower Street.

“We are looking to partner with the Berlin Community Improvement Association and SHORE UP! that currently occupy the site, and hopefully bring a new life to the once vibrant community center that used to be here, and that’s still here, but in some disrepair,” Tyndall said.

The Berlin Mayor and Council discussed longterm plans for transforming the Berlin Multipurpose Building into a community center with District 38 legislators last Thursday.

The Berlin Multipurpose Building is the historic site of the Flower Street School and is in walking distance to Dr. William Henry Park.

“Our town really lacks an area where you can have indoor recreation space and community gathering space,” Tyndall said.

He added that the town also owns a three-acre parcel nearby, which is normally used for overflow parking during events.

“The building really needs some improvements on the inside, and we need to have a good community discussion about where we want to go next with the property,” Tyndall said.

Responding to Otto, Tyndall said the current owner of the property is the Berlin Community Improvement Association.

“For years, the town of Berlin helped fund the Berlin Community Improvement Association (BCIA) to help maintain the building and keep it in good repair,” Tyndall replied to Carozza’s question about the existing partnership. “We’re talking about a building that’s far surpassed it’s useful life. We’re at a point now where we have to have a discussion about what the future of that building looks like and whether that’s going to be new construction or a complete remodel.”

Dean Burrell, vice president of the council, added that the Berlin Multipurpose Building has functioned as a polling place for municipal elections as well as a meeting place for town community meetings over the years.

Lastly, Tyndall stressed the impact of covid-19 on town employees, residents and the businesspeople in the small town.

Berlin is also home to five schools – Buckingham Elementary School, Stephen Decatur Middle School, Berlin Intermediate School, Stephen Decatur High School and Worcester Preparatory School – nursing homes and assisted living facilities, Atlantic General Hospital and other medical providers within the incorporated town limits.

“We just ask that as you go to Annapolis, as you’re out and about representing your districts and our town, that you keep us in the forefront of your mind,” Tyndall said. “If there is some supplemental financial support that does come along, that you could advocate for the municipal level, that would be great.”

Hartman added that Peninsula Regional Medical Center received its first allotment of the covid-19 vaccinations. Atlantic General received vaccinations last Friday.

“We can expect covid-19 recovery to be front and center during the legislative session,” Carozza said. “We want to continue to prioritize those that have been hardest hit. As you look from March to where we are today, we have obviously seen our hospitality industries, specifically the restaurants, extremely hard hit by covid-19, so there has been a focus during this interim period to work with the small businesses first on providing the immediate assistances they needed just to survive being closed, and then working with them on the phased-in opening.”

Carozza added that with events being canceled, the District 38 representative will make an extra effort to communicate regularly with Berlin officials.

Additional financial assistance is being distributed to hospitality industries in the state, Carozza shared, following Hogan’s press conference last Thursday at 5 p.m.

“We’ll be working as we have done on these other relief announcements that have come through to make sure that as it flows from the federal government to the state to the counties that we make sure our locals have access to that relief,” she said.

No public or press comments were submitted, so before the work session adjourned Tyndall discussed the old Tyson chicken plant at Heron Park.

The town has applied for $578,630 through the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to demolish the 65,000 square-foot building.

The building is a blighted property and in complete disrepair in some parts of it, Tyndall said.

“Other portions we’ve been able to make into some dry storage and try and get some revenue-producing potential from the property,” he added.