New utility cooperative CEO calls for focus on future planning

Norwich — Dave Meisinger, the new CEO of the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative, has spent his first three weeks in meetings with staff, board members and regional leaders and is ready to launch a planning process to address issues such as energy needs, volatile markets and how much the cooperative should look to cleaner, renewable energy supplies.

Meisinger, hired in December, took over at CMEEC in early January and addressed the full board of directors for the first time Thursday. He hopes to lead the agency past its controversial recent past marred by federal indictments of five former cooperative leaders for their roles in planning lavish trips to the Kentucky Derby and a West Virginia golf resort. Former CEO Drew Rankin, who faces two federal criminal indictments, was fired last May.

On Thursday, Meisinger said creating a strategic plan that presents a long-term vision for the energy cooperative owned by six municipally owned utilities is a top priority. The plan must have the cooperative’s long-term needs in mind, be flexible to changing conditions and address emerging issues such as renewable energy sources.

Prior to Meisinger’s presentation, Michael Rall, CMEEC director of asset management, gave the board an overview of the utility cooperative’s energy generation projects and power costs. In response to questions from board members, Rall said the potential of wind power as a renewable power source should be explored, but he cautioned the cost is likely to be higher than other, more traditional power sources.

Meisinger used wind power as an example of an issue that should be addressed in a strategic plan, both by CMEEC as a whole and its individual member utilities, including Norwich Public Utilities, Groton Utilities, Bozrah Light & Power and Jewett City Department of Public Utilities. CMEEC sells wholesale electric power to its member utilities from power purchases and power generated at its own production facilities.

“Renewables are typically a premium product,” Meisinger said. “It’s all in more cost per megawatt hour than you would pay just taking energy from the market. Not being subject to a legal mandate, it becomes a strategic question for us: What is that analysis? What is the breakdown for us? How much do you lure customers? How much are they pushing you, or how much do your individual strategic plans call for increasing renewables?”

At Meisinger suggestion, the board on Thursday approved establishing a strategic planning subcommittee that will include the general managers of the six member utilities and other board members. The group will hire a facilitator, Tim Blodgett, who already has worked with CMEEC and member utilities to work on the strategic plan.

One project underway by CMEEC is a fuel cell park at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton. The project had been stalled for several months but Rall said Thursday construction was restarted last week. Fuel cell modules were delivered last week, and connections are underway. Rall said Unit 1 could be ready to start up by the end of April, and the second unit could be installed by June or July.

Prior to the start of Thursday’s board meeting, Meisinger said the deadline for completion of the sub base fuel cell project has been extended to July 31, and he hopes the project will be fully online by that date.

c.bessette@theday.com

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