Jim Satterthwaite Candidate for Light Commissioner

The following article has been submitted by Jim Satterthwaite, Candidate for Municipal Light Commissioner

During the twenty-plus years that my family and I have lived in Reading, I have often mentioned the Reading Municipal Light Department (RMLD) as one of the institutions that makes our town an attractive place to live. We receive our electric power from a public utility whose reliable service and low rates are the envy of other towns.

Being an RMLD Commissioner is mostly about routine oversight of a complicated not-for-profit business enterprise. To familiarize myself with that enterprise, I have attended all the Board of Commissioners meetings and most of the Citizens Advisory Board meetings for the last fourteen months. I have been pleased to learn that RMLD, under the leadership of the General Manager and the department heads who report regularly at these meetings, is fiscally sound, provides award-winning reliability, and works proactively to procure energy contracts that will meet coming state targets for reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Long-serving members of the Board of Commissioners deserve credit for putting the current management team in place.

RMLD Commissioners are also elected officials, and another part of their job is to enact forward-looking public policy that serves the best interests of voters and ratepayers. Municipal light plants exist under Massachusetts law for the purpose of allowing local control. The state legislature devolves certain elements of policy-making to local elected boards; but with our freedom of local control comes a responsibility to use that freedom for the common good. Over the last several years, a converging scientific consensus has made climate change an urgent priority at the global, national, and state levels. It should be a local concern as well. Unfortunately, the RMLD Board of Commissioners has not kept up with the times. RMLD pays lip service to “greenness,” but what one finds when one scratches the surface is often disappointing. As one example, customers who bought into the Solar Choice program might be unpleasantly surprised to learn (as I was) that RMLD purchased the solar energy while allowing credit for its environmental benefits to accrue to other entities; in effect, these well-intentioned ratepayers produced no net benefit for the environment. Similarly, the RMLD reimbursement scheme for energy generated by residential solar panels is so ungenerous as to discourage further adoption of home solar. Looking at publicly available data, it is very difficult to determine what percentage of the energy sold by RMLD counts legally as renewable or clean. My first initiative as RMLD Commissioner will be to seek transparency in these numbers, as a necessary prerequisite for informed public comment, deliberation, and debate.

It has been suggested that people are trying to politicize the RMLD, and I share the concern. Service on the RMLD Board is about policy, not politics. We need to take issues one at a time, narrow the focus, and listen respectfully to one another. I am humbled by the prospect of holding a public trust, and I am not committed in advance to any fixed set of policies. My commitments are these: 1) follow the science; 2) seek the common good; 3) keep learning; 4) exercise independent judgment. If I should be elected to the RMLD Board, I invite the voters of Reading to hold me to these standards. Thank you.

About Jim Satterthwaite

Jim has an undergraduate degree from Princeton University and an M.A. in Mathematics and a Ph.D. in Physics from Temple University. He now works for a major medical device company, developing radiation dose algorithms for cancer care. Jim and his wife Ute have lived in Reading since 1999 and raised two sons here.

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