December Infrastructure: from FalmouthNet to Provincetown’s battery back-up

At the Infrastructure Committee’s November meeting, Cape Light Compact requested a letter of support regarding the Department of Public Utilities’ review of their existing plan. The Tech Council Board approved this request and the Committee sent its comments to the DPU.

The Board of Advisors to FalmouthNet recently hosted a presentation by Jim Ballard, a leading advocate for broadband. A representative of FalmouthNet reported that there is no clear path to fund a $55 million project at this time. While ARPA funds are forthcoming, the initial focus is on unserved and underserved communities. There is some debate at the county level as to how the money should be spent, with reliable internet on the table along with housing, wastewater, and other pressing issues.

A committee member asked if FalmouthNet might work with Eversource. In Chattanooga, the electric power board implemented fiber optics, connecting every meter in the city. They made their business case on locating the faults automatically, restoring the ones they could restore automatically, and then detecting electrical theft. This made it financially feasible to put fiber on every meter in the city, providing fast internet access to everybody. Committee members will meet with Eversource to see if this is feasible.

It was reported that the town of Milton, MA has put together enough funding to build a municipal intranet. A first vote on a municipal light plant passed overwhelmingly, with a second vote anticipated shortly.

It was also reported that Comcast has purchased the municipal phone provider in Braintree, which was an older, Hybrid Fiber Coax plant, designed to deliver cable TV. Braintree currently has access to FiOS and XFinity.

The Nor’easter we had in the late fall was a level two storm, which is quite significant. Over 150,000 Eversource customers lost power, making it one of the most significant storms we’ve had in recent years.

Significant storms are increasing, raising the question of power security. While we are concerned about broadband accessibility, none of it works in a power outage. Ronit Goldstein of Eversource gave the Infrastructure Committee a brief update on Eversource’s battery project, which will be commissioned in 2022.

There are two different phases of the battery project in Provincetown: use of the battery as a backup, and a micro grid phase which will Island the load from Wellfleet to Provincetown. Eversource expects to be commissioning the battery as backup in the first quarter of this year.

Historically, Provincetown has been hit hard with power outages. The town is fed by a single line, and to permit a new line through the National Seashore is not in line with environmental practices. If the feeder to Provincetown goes down the batteries would supply power for four to six hours in the non-peak season and one to three hours in the summer. This gives workers time to walk the feeder line and locate the fault.

Also underway on the Cape and Vineyard are transmission- and distribution-grade projects, with two new cables going to Martha’s Vineyard from Falmouth. This is one additional line to serve the island and a replacement of a faulty line. There are four existing cables currently; this project will improve capacity and the ability for absorption of distributed generation of energy, including solar and others. It will enable Eversource to decommission five diesel generators which must be decommissioned by Spring 2025.

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