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 Committee Report

Committee Report #1

CABLE TV, TELECOMMUNICATIONS AND PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMITTEE MEMBERS

In City Council December 13, 2010

Vice Mayor Henrietta Davis, Chair  
Councillor Leland Cheung  
Councillor Timothy J Toomey  

The Cable TV, Telecommunications and Public Utilities Committee conducted a public meeting on Wednesday, October 27, 2010 at five o'clock and thirty-four minutes p.m. in the Sullivan Chamber.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss with NSTAR the policy for replacing gas meters in residential properties containing asbestos, power outages, progress on the state energy efficiency plan and any other matters that may properly come before the committee.

Present at the meeting were Vice Mayor Henrietta Davis, Chair of the Committee, Councillor Leland Cheung, Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Susan Glazer, Acting Assistant City Manager for Community Development Department (CDD), Susanne Rasmussen, Director, Environment and Transportation Planning, CDD, George Fernandes, City Electrician, Michael Nicoloro, Jr. Deputy Commissioner of Inspectional Services, David J. Brogan, Jr., Plumbing and Gas Inspector, Inspectional Services Department, Penny Peters, Aide to Vice Mayor Davis and Deputy City Clerk Donna P. Lopez.

Also present were Bill Zamparelli, NSTAR, Gerald Griffin, NSTAR, Charles Olsson, NSTAR Energy Efficiency, Kathleen Born, 3 Walnut Avenue, Hasson Rashid, 820 Mass. Avenue, Chester G. McCarthy, 1572 Mass. Avenue, Susan Redlich, 19 Sacramento Street, Megan Shaw, Community Outreach Coordinator, Cambridge Energy Alliance, Jesse Gordon, CEA, Audrey Schulman, HEET, 21 Acorn Street and Minka vanBeuzekom, 20 Essex Street.

Vice Mayor Davis convened the meeting and explained the purpose.  She stated that the committee would first discuss replacing gas meters in residential properties where asbestos is present.

Vice Mayor Davis stated that several residents have expressed concern about replacement gas meters.  She asked Kathleen Born, a former City Councillor, to explain the problem.

Ms. Born stated that she received several letters nine months ago from NSTAR announcing that it was time to replace the gas meter (ATTACHMENT A).  A representative from NSTAR informed her that the gas meter would not be replaced because of visible asbestos present.  She kept getting calls from NSTAR about the meter replacement.  She was informed that the meter would never be replaced.  By law, Chapter 164, Section 115A, all gas meters are to be replaced every seven years and the pipes inspected (ATTACHMENT B).  She was advised that there are 10,000 housing units with the same problem.  This needs to be resolved.  She also has asbestos in her furnace and pipes and it will cost $25,000 to replace them. Ms. Born said that there needs to be a clear policy.

Mr. Zamparelli explained that this is an issue of employee safety.  He distributed NSTAR's Policy (ATTACHMENT C) from the Gas Service Handbook which was formulated in 2010 as it relates to asbestos.  Prior to starting a job employees are instructed to inspect the job for the presence of asbestos.  If asbestos is present the employee is to stop the work.  He agreed that this is a difficult issue for homeowners.  Asbestos needs to be abated or sealed.  The homeowner is responsible for dealing with the asbestos.  There is no easy answer; safety is NSTAR's number one priority.  Mr. Gerald Griffin, NSTAR, added that if asbestos is not disturbed NSTAR employee will do the work.  Mr. Zamparelli added that if an air quality certification is done NSTAR will then replace the gas meter.  Ms. Born commented that NSTAR gave her a list of vendors for the air quality certification, but all the vendors were unwilling to do the job.  She asked if she had an air quality certification and the results were zero would NSTAR pay for the air quality test.  She was told that NSTAR would not pay for the test.

Chester McCarthy, Building Superintendent at 1572 Massachusetts Avenue, explained to the committee that he was notified when tenant gas meters were to be changed.  The issue now is that NSTAR requires 4 hours per meter per man to change a meter.  Previously many meters were changed in one block of time.  He also stated that NSTAR Electric sometimes notified residents when an outage would occur on Chauncy and Waterhouse Streets.

In response to a question from Ms. Born, Mr. Nicoloro explained that contractors check for asbestos.  It is tested and an asbestos permit is issued by the city.  Removal is done with proper protection.  Mr. Brogan said that asbestos permits are not handled by the plumbing inspector.   Mr. Nicoloro added that residential asbestos removal is handled by the housing inspector; commercial asbestos removal is handled by the building inspector.  Vice Mayor Davis commented that if NSTAR suspects asbestos they leave the job.

Ms. Born asked: if the law requires a meter be replaced every seven years where is this issue.  Mr. Zamparelli responded that if the meter needs replacing and there is asbestos it needs to be abated.  He asked if Ms. Born would propose that an NSTAR employee go into a hazardous situation and endangers himself.

Vice Mayor Davis stated that she would take the matter under advisement and communicate with NSTAR to resolve the issue.  Ms. Born added that NSTAR should accept air quality test done by vendors who actually do the air quality certification tests. 

At five o'clock and fifty-five minutes p.m. Vice Mayor Davis began the discussion about outages.  She stated that she is transmitting complaints from residents about outages to NSTAR.  She submitted the following complaint e-mails she received about outages:

            Preston Gralla                          (ATTACHMENT D)

                Nan Doyle                               (ATTACHMENT E)

                Arvilla Sarazen                        (ATTACHMENT F)

                Elizabeth Harmer Dionne          (ATTACHEMENT G)

George Fernandes, City Electrician, stated that he and residents are notified by NSTAR about planned outages.  He stated that the resident named on the NSTAR bill is notified of outages.  If it is an emergency outage the resident is notified by phone.  He stated that a problem exists due to the increased use of cell phones. Residents should be sure that NSTAR has the proper land line phone numbers.

Vice Mayor Davis stated that the complaints are often about unplanned outages and the length of time of the outage.  Porter Square has frequent outages.  She asked if some areas are more vulnerable than others.  Mr. Fernandes stated that the only outages without notice are those that occur due to storms and equipment failure.  Ms. Born stated that she feels that there are more outages in Porter Square.  She reported outages at 219 Concord Avenue as well as outages that have affected the High Rise Bakery.  The employees of the bakery had to be reassigned numerous times in the last 3-6 months due to planned outages that didn't occur.  It cost the bakery between $4000 and $6000.  Vice Mayor Davis requested that Mr. Zamparelli generate a communication to the owner of the High Rise Bakery.

Mr. Zamparelli stated that there are a lot of planned outages in Cambridge.  NSTAR is aggressively replacing oil switches in the system and this replacement causes outages.  There have been four outages to replace the switches because the replacement switches are larger and takes longer to replace.  He explained weather and parked cars blocking poles are factors that cause planned outages not to occur.  NSTAR attempts to notify residents 2 ½ to 3 weeks before the outage will occur.  They can only notify the customer of record. Outages are not publicized due to security concerns.  He stated that he understands the frustration, but there are many factors in the process. 

Mr. McCarthy stated that NSTAR is notifying the wrong people about outages.  He stated that he has received notification from a management company after he has given his cell and home phone number numerous times.  Tenants need to be notified.  Tenants have lost computers because they were not notified of outages.  Vice Mayor Davis asked Mr. McCarthy to give his contact information to Mr. Zamparelli to get the notification issue straightened out.  Mr. Zamparelli stated that an NSTAR Focus Group is working on the issue of customer notification.

Vice Mayor Davis made the following motion:

ORDERED:     That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to contact NSTAR and request a report on the outages in East Cambridge, Porter Square and Kendall Square and how the outages were handled.

The motion -

            Carried.

Ms. Born asked if electronics get destroyed when a power surge occurs.  Mr. Fernandes responded that if a computer hard drive loses power it gets damaged, so residents should turn off computers before a planned outage.

At six o'clock and fourteen minutes p. m. Vice Mayor Davis opened the meeting to the states' energy efficiency plan.

Vice Mayor Davis asked how the state energy efficiency plan affects Cambridge residents and low income residents.  Mr. Olsson stated that under the Green Communities Act all utilities are required to file a 3-year energy efficiency plan.  He is looking forward to partnering with Cambridge.  The public documents contain enhancements to the program.  Some rebates were added for efficient utilities and some were eliminated due to inefficiencies.  NSTAR's goal is to help implement the plan.

Megan Shaw introduced herself to the committee as the new Community Outreach Coordinator for the Cambridge Energy Alliance.

Minka vanBeuzekom stated that she wanted to hear the specifics from NSTAR about their goals.

Susan Redlich, Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET), stated that there is a gap in that non-profit organizations with low resources fall into the commercial category.  She would like a meeting to explain ways non-profits can benefit from the low interest loans and rebates available to residents. 

Audrey Schulman, HEET, stated that she wanted to work with the city and NSTAR to help non-profits.

Charles Olsson, NSTAR, spoke about the expansion of their heat loan program. He believes it is a 0% interest loan. Ms. Rasmussen asked if this program included multi-unit buildings and condos in commercial rates. She will contact Mr. Frank Gundal at NSTAR about this. Mr. Olsson explained that master meters are on commercial rate.

Vice Mayor Davis stated that she would hold another meeting and invite Frank Gundal.

Vice Mayor Davis asked Mr. Olsson to give specifics about the energy efficiency programs. Mr. Olson explained that there are 15 to 17 programs that are managed by

NSTAR, among them residential lighting, residential appliances, residential multifamily, deep energy retrofit, statewide multifamily, etc. Each program has its own budget and goals. In 2012 there will be $50-$60 million for NSTAR. The goals are public and appear on the Department of Energy (DOER) website.

Vice Mayor Davis asked how NSTAR defines a multifamily building. Mr. Olsson stated that a multifamily building is considered five or more units. If the property is a residential property it needs to be metered as residential. If the property contains a master meter it is considered commercial property. A third party integrator was hired to help customers get the right vendor whether NSTAR or National Grid.  Ms. Rasmussen noted that there are many Cambridge buildings with individual electric meters but a master gas meter. She further stated that on the MassSave website you can only find whole building assessments on the business sector not on the residential. She asked if this program is available to condominium buildings. Mr. Olsson responded that the program is still evolving. He stated that the MassSave website is in the phase 2 redesign. A website designer is being sought.

Vice Mayor Davis stated that multifamily issues have been discussed and the problem still exists. She stated that she would schedule a follow-up meeting to answer issues regarding multifamily buildings. Commercial multifamily buildings are the biggest housing stock in the city.  Ms. Rasmussen stated that the ability to navigate the program was the issue. The residential program should be under the residential heating system. She also stated that it would be good if the level of assistance was the same for multifamily buildings as it is for buildings with one to four units. Mr. Olsson stated that state law regulates requirements. He is working on financing for the program. There is a new program for renters and landlords.  Vice Mayor Davis asked what opportunities exist for Cambridge to be a partner in an energy efficiency pilot program such as the Deep Energy Retrofit Program. In the residential section there are two major pilot programs. Mr. Olsson stated that a total rehab was being done on Jay Street that goes way beyond code. He spoke about replacement of windows, roof and some. On the NSTAR website there is a community outreach grant program. Specific goals must be reached by cities and towns to be eligible for the program. Mr. Olsson further spoke about O Power, a behavior-based program similar to the recycling program. NSTAR compares homes of similar size and gives tips to try to help homeowners reduce energy use. The new 2010 O Power program enrolled 25,000 customers. The highest users were targeted. In 2011, 25,000 or more will be added to the program. Less than 1% targeted rejected the O Power program.  O Power has been trying to grow its business. The NSTAR O Power program is limited to 25,000 customers.

Vice Mayor Davis spoke about the building ratings concept and efficiency measures to create a market for greener buildings. Could NSTAR partner with the city of Cambridge to pilot this type of a program? Mr. Olsson stated that the commercial sector does not rate buildings. Ms. Rasmussen stated that DOER is interested in building labeling. New York City has mandated building labels by next May.  Realtors don't like the idea.  The US Department of Energy is also looking at this. Vice Mayor Davis added that data is needed to track and plan the program in order to promote energy efficiency. Ms. Rasmussen stated that residential NSTAR monthly reports contain this data now.

Megan Shaw stated that the Cambridge Energy Alliance would like aggregated data in order to compare information. Mr. Olsson stated that he was glad the progress was being made to share data however individual NSTAR customer information is locked. Mr. Olsson further stated that the web component of O Power is good. This program has a one-year measure life to change customer behavior.

Vice Mayor Davis thanked attendees for their participation. She stated that she would hold a follow-up meeting to discuss the commercial buildings and the multifamily issue.

The meeting adjourned at seven o'clock and twenty minutes PM.

For the Committee,

Vice Mayor Henrietta Davis, Chair
Cable TV, Telecommunications and Public Utilities Committee

  
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