Expect “empathetic” Wellesley MLP approach to billing in light of COVID-19 crisis

wellesley mlp municipal light plantCOVID-19 pandemic ramifications have become a theme of pretty much all town board and committee meetings these days, and the most recent Wellesley Municipal Light Plant Board meeting was no exception.

The health crisis has implications on MLP agenda items from billing and collections to energy usage to strategies for buying everything from fiber to “padmounted transformers.” The department divvied up its operating team into thirds, with each group working 1 week and taking 2 weeks staged at home (obligated to be available), after consulting with the Health Department. “We did that after the fire department ended up having 1 guy get sick and took out 2 shifts of fire workers who ended up having to be quarantined for the next 2 weeks,” Newell said. He added that changes at the MLP will mean a reduction in capital projects, with emphasis on Internet and small cell build-outs and avoidance of projects that would involve interaction with the general public.

(4/7/20 Update on Wellesley firefighters: Wellesley firefighters cope with COVID-19 from within)

The MLP is taking other steps to avoid spread of the coronavirus. This includes office deep cleaning, and cleaning of trucks by outgoing and incoming crews. The organization is relying almost exclusively on remote meter reading as well.

The online meeting got off to a positive start, with MLP Director Don Newell—casting a mysterious profile as the only participant not on camera—noting that the net income is “positive for a change,” in part due to seasonal billings. Of more interest to customers might be the discussion of what happens if you have difficulty paying upcoming bills in light of COVID-19-inspired layoffs and salary cuts.

MLP management was asked by the board about what the impact on the energy outfit will be of its commercial clients being affected by the coronavirus shutdowns. Newell was awaiting actual numbers for this period at the time of the meeting, but said the MLP expects usage to be “significantly lower than it was.” The MLP has already been contacted by a couple of customers regarding payment plans, he said.

He suspected residential usage would be up given that so many people are stuck at home. And speaking of that, WMLP Chairman Paul Criswell raised the topic of what to do if residents have issues paying their bills.

Newell noted that the state has issued a request to MLPs on extending the moratorium on shut-offs and letters of collections during the state of emergency. Some municipals are waiving interest on late bills, he said.

After reviewing what the impact is in coming weeks, the board could call an emergency meeting to discuss the matter. At the very least, Criswell said, the issue should be discussed at the next board meeting and it might make sense to issue a message to the public “to reassure some people.”

He said: “I also think we are going to have, for us, a very substantially higher incidence of people going delinquent on their bills and we should be prepared for how we’re going to deal with that….we want to be as empathetic as possible with regard to that.”

Non-sequitur: Joe Greco Switch?

A Swellesley reader recently sent us this photo of a power line set-up at the corner of Ivy & Oak near Sprague Elemetary School, and asked: Who was Joe Greco? Anyone know what this is about?

greco switch

 

More: Forget Netflix: Binge on Wellesley town government live streams

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