Consultant Hired To Study Electric System’s Problems

BERLIN – Berlin electric customers could see ongoing relief with their extremely high electric bills in the next several months, after the Berlin Mayor and Council signed a contract this week for a consultant to analyze all aspects of the town’s electric utility with an eye towards reducing costs and maximizing efficiency.

“The engineer said emphatically there is good news for the town,” said interim Mayor Gee Williams.

After a preliminary survey of the electric utility, engineers for consultants Booth and Associates of Raleigh, NC, concluded that, “this is a very manageable situation,” Williams said.

Council member Ellen Lang suggested contracting out an electric rate analysis in July, when Berlin electric customers began to see even higher bills than usual.

“Spiraling electric costs paid by the town of Berlin and individual customers is simply not acceptable,” Williams said Monday night.

While there is no word yet on when rates could be brought down, the Berlin Mayor and Council has insisted that consultants Booth and Associates make a preliminary report of their findings in four to six weeks in late September or early October.

The entire process should take between three and six months.

Booth and Associates will review power rates and supply contracts and suggest alternatives. The consultants will also assess equipment usage and set-up and standardize operations and maintenance.

The advisors will suggest further training for electric utility staff and recommend what skills and level of expertise are needed in the electric manager, a position that is currently empty.

Williams noted that the consultants said after their initial, pre-contract survey, that they were impressed with the electric utility staff.

According to Williams, action will be taken to reduce power costs and customer charges as soon as the consultants identify some options and report their recommendations to the town council.

Any rate reduction will take time, Williams cautioned.

“This situation didn’t happen in the last couple months. This situation didn’t happen in the last couple years,” Williams said.

Remedying the situation will not take years, however, said Williams.

Booth and Associates will get started immediately.

The Berlin Mayor and Council could not provide a cost for the consulting services. Instead of a contract price, the town will pay for services “a la carte,” as if choosing services from a menu.

Berlin elected officials and staff will evaluate the need for further services as soon as more preliminary tasks are completed.

“We’re getting an excellent rate because we have their lead engineer coming to town for one week a month for six months at a fraction of the rate,” Council member Ellen Lang said.

The hourly rate for the engineer will be $75 an hour.

“They’re so big they don’t need to make a living off the town of Berlin,” Williams said. “In the scheme of things we look very small in the power industry.”

The Berlin Council voted unanimously to sign the contract.

“An immediate and timely response to this issue is required. The time for decisive action is now,” Williams said.

At Lang’s suggestion, electric customers will be sent a letter explaining the steps the town council has taken.

“I don’t think we can rely on home grown advice anymore,” Williams said.