Belmont/Trapelo Corridor Repaving ‘On Schedule’

Photo: Paving work underway along Belmont Street.

Despite construction equipment on the road and travel limited to single lanes along one of Belmont’s busiest throughways, the major paving work along the Belmont Street/Trapelo Road Corridor is “on schedule,” according to construction officials at the work site.

The laying down of several inches of asphalt should be completed by the end of the construction day at 6 p.m., on Tuesday, June 30.

A final topcoat of paving material will be applied along the entire reconstruction route when the project is completed early in the spring of 2016. 

The paving work from Cushing Square (at the intersection of Trapelo Road and Common Street) to the corner of Belmont Street and School Street is part of the $17 million reconstruction of the 2.5 mile route from the Waltham to the Cambridge town lines. 

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Belmont High Alum Gibson Rows His Way to National Championship

Photo: Peter Gibson (USRowing)

It’s been 20 years since a Belmont High School alumni – Patty Shea (’80) in field hockey in 1996 – strode behind the Stars and Stripes at the opening ceremony of a Summer Olympics. (Belmont High’s Emily Cook has been a member of four US Winter Olympic teams and competing in three as a freestyle skier.)

But that 20 year drought could come to end next year in Brazil as Peter Gibson, BHS class of 2009, is making his mark as one of the best lightweight sweep rowers in the country.

On Friday, June 26, Gibson joined team mates Andrew Weiland, Matthew O’Donoghue and 2012 Olympian Robin Prendes to finish first in the lightweight fours at the USRowing National Championships held at Mercer Lake in West Windsor, N.J.

Last month, the team – rowing out of the USRowing Training Center in Oklahoma City – finished first in qualifications to represent the US at the 2015 Pan American Games taking place in mid-July in Toronto.

Taking time away from the fours, Prendes and Gibson won gold in the lightweight pair in the 2015 Under 23 & Senior I World Championships Trials on Wednesday, June 24. They will represent the Stars and Stripes at the 2015 World Rowing Under 23 Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

Gibson is no stranger to world championships, having participated in the past two as a member of the lightweight eights, winning the bronze in 2013 and finishing fifth in 2014.

The son of Sarah Frisken and Ted Gibson, Gibson began rowing in 2008 at nearby Community Rowing, Inc., in Brighton. After graduating from BHS, Gibson entered Brown University where he rowed and earned a degree in computer science in 2013. 

If he does make next year’s Olympic team, he will upholding family tradition. His father rowed for Canada at the 1984 Olympic Games and his cousin, Duff Gibson, won a gold medal while competing for Canada in skeleton at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games.

This Week: Evening eCamp at the Library, Tea and Cake Meet and Greet

Photo: Hoopla, a software reader that allows library patrons to instantly borrow free digital movies, music, and more, 24/7 with your library card.

On the government side of “This Week”: 

  • The Board of Health meets on Tuesday, June 30 at 5:30 p.m., in Town Hall. The agenda includes a meet and greet with the owner of Arlington’s Vintage Tea and Cake while John Maguranis, the town’s animal control officer, reviews the Off-Leash Permit Assessment Procedure.
  • The Planning Board is scheduled to meet on Tuesday, June 30, at 7 p.m. in Town Hall for a few special permits and continued talks on the citizen petition zoning amendment.
  • The Underwood Pool Building Committee holds its meeting on Wednesday, July 1, at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall.

• Two days of roadway paving gets underway on Monday, June 29, along the Belmont Street/Trapelo Road Corridor from Cushing Square to School Street. Paving runs from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Prepare for detours and delays. 

• An evening session of Belmont Public Library’s eCamp takes place on Monday, June 29, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Young Adult Room. Reference Librarian Joanna Breen and Technology Librarian Ellen Girouard will teach how to access the library from wherever you find yourself this summer, talk about Zinio and hoopla, and demonstrate other ways the library connects patrons to online media, in this free-flowing demonstration plus Q&A session. Enjoy snacks, practice with your device or a library laptop, and get connected to magazines, movies, music, and more.

• The Belmont Public Library will have a Drop-in Crafts Program for kids in kindergarten and older on Wednesday, July 1, from 2 p.m. in the Assembly Room.

• The Reminisants, playing the music of the 50s to the 90s, headline this week’s Payson Park Music Festival concert taking place at 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday, July 1. 

• Come over and color the sidewalk at the Belmont Public Library as the library hosts “Chalk the Walk” on Thursday, July 2, from 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. 

• The Belmont Farmers Market rings the market bell each Thursday in the Belmont Center commuter parking lot on Claflin Street. The market is open from 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Belmont Yard Sales: June 27–28

Photo: Yard sales in Belmont.

Yard sales in the “Town of Homes.” 

19 Ash St., Saturday, June 27, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

69 Carleton Rd., Saturday, June 27, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

58 Cedar Rd., Saturday, June 27, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

333 Common St., Saturday, June 27, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

100-102 Fairview Ave., Saturday, June 27, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

50 Flett Rd., Saturday, June 27, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

52 Harvard Rd., Saturday, June 27, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

69 Oak Ave., Saturday, June 27, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

72 Oxford Ave., Saturday, June 27, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

80 Palfrey Rd., Saturday, June 27, from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

180 School St., Saturday, June 27, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

• 38-40 Unity Ave., Saturday and Sunday, June 27 and 28, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Belmont Corner Neighborhood Association.)

72 Waverley St., Saturday, June 27, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Beware! Paving Along Belmont Street/Trapelo Road Monday, Tuesday


The main east/west corridor through Belmont will be clogged with asphalt spreaders and dump trucks as the roadway from Cushing Square towards the Cambridge line will undergoing street paving on Monday and Tuesday, June 29 and 30.

The work will begin at 7 a.m. and last until 6 p.m. 

The paving is part of the reconstruction of the 2.5 mile Belmont Street/Trapelo Road Corridor project, the $17 million Massachusetts Department of Transportation-financed repair of the major throughway from Waltham to Cambridge.

The Belmont Police is advising motorists to seek alternative routes during the two days in which the road will be under construction.

Lots of Openings on Town Committees and Groups; Are You Interested?

Photo: The seal of Belmont.

If you have some time on your hand and wish to contribute your talents to help run the town you live in, the Belmont Board of Selectmen has begun its annual committee appointment process.

Beginning in July, 2015, the Selectmen will be making appointments to fill terms set to expire this year and those that have been left vacant by resignations. Although an uncompensated position, the Selectmen places a high value on committee contributions, and recognizes the critical role that committees play in shaping Belmont’s future.

The Board is looking for Belmont residents with a variety of talents and backgrounds who are willing to make the commitment to serving on a committee. Residents with no past committee service, past committee members and current committee members interested in re-appointment are all encouraged to apply.

The list of Committees that have vacancies or members with terms expiring in 2015 include:

  • Cable Television Advisory Committee
  • Community Preservation Committee
  • Conservation Commission
  • Council on Aging
  • Cultural Council
  • Disability Access Commission
  • Economic Development Advisory Committee
  • Education Scholarship Committee
  • Energy Committee
  • Historic District Commission
  • Housing Trust
  • Human Rights Commission
  • Municipal Light Advisory Board
  • Permanent Audit Committee
  • Planning Board
  • Property and Casualty Insurance Advisory Committee
  • Recreation Commission
  • Registrars Of Voters
  • Shade Tree Committee
  • Traffic Advisory Committee
  • Vision 21 Implementation Committee
  • Water Advisory Board
  • Zoning Board of Appeals

The number of appointments to be made, time commitment needed, and preferred qualifications varies from committee to committee. To be considered for appointment to any committees appointed by the Board of Selectmen, please fill out a Community Volunteer Interest Form that may be obtained from the Selectmen’s Office or on the town website.

Submit completed interest forms along with any other supporting documentation to the Office of the Board of Selectmen located in Town Hall, or via e-mail to

Completed interest forms will be kept on file for a year. Note that applying to be a committee member is not a guarantee of appointment. The Board of Selectmen will make all appointments in public meetings this summer.

Questions about committees or this appointment process may be addressed to Public Information Specialist Bob Reardon Jr. in the Office of the Board of Selectmen.

Letter to the Editor: Questioning Net Metering Working Group’s Bias

To the editor:

The last two weeks saw a flurry of activity as the Light Board moved ever closer to embracing solar. Last week, 450 signatures of residents demanding simple retail net metering was submitted to the Light Board and, in my opinion, the Light Board started changing the Municipal Light Advisory Board (MLAB) membership to be more responsive to resident sentiment.

The need for a membership change was made apparent at Tuesday’s [June 23] MLAB meeting when the outgoing chair launched into an ideological and unsubstantiated diatribe attacking residents and elected officials alike. As much as he is ideologically opposed to rooftop solar, residents clearly want more solar not less as manifested in three packed  public hearings, 130 letters, and two petitions. Residents simply want the same Net Metering policy that is practiced successfully in 98 percent of Massachusetts towns. The town doesn’t need such divisiveness, close-mindedness and unprofessionalism from an appointed official.

Jim Williams, the new Light Board liaison to Belmont Light, asked residents for a proposal and residents provided it to the Light Board. The Light Board didn’t deliberate or vote on the residents’ compromise proposal but it agreed to Williams’ suggestion to strike language from the 2011 policy in order to jump start solar installations this summer while a newly-appointed Temporary Net Metering Working Advisory Group decides on the residents’ proposal.

The Light Board’s method to create the Working Group was problematic, however. There was no prior public request for resumes, no written mandate and the deliberation didn’t include many names of qualified people who applied.

The Light Board decided that the Working Advisory Group has three voting and two non-voting members. The Light Board may have thought it was forming an unbiased Working Advisory Group but I found that two voting members opposed Town Meeting’s Article 9 ( One voting member is as ideological as the MLAB chair and has written publicly in opposition to retail Net Metering. Another voting member criticized residents’ 35-page comment letter to MLAB ( in writing last year. He favors utility scale solar not residential solar. Obviously, utility scale solar is not an option in Belmont. Thus, the biased creation and make-up of the group undermines the credibility of whatever the Working Advisory Group ultimately recommends. Once the Working Advisory Group delivers its recommendation, there is no reason to believe that it puts an end to the discussion.

It’s not too late for the Light Board to change the voting status of the Working Advisory Group members or add ordinary residents to the group to counterbalance the Working Advisory Group’s anti-residential solar bias in a majority of the voting members.

Vera Iskandarian

Waverley Street

Sold in Belmont: The Good, the Mind Boggling and How Much Ugly for $1.2M

Photo: “Ugh” on Brighton.

A weekly recap of residential properties sold in the past seven-plus days in the “Town of Homes.”

26 Holden Rd., #2, Condo (1926). Sold: $471,000. Listed at $449,900. Living area: 1,172 sq.-ft. 6 rooms, 2 bedrooms, 1 baths. On the market: 61 days.

16 Candleberry Ln., Townhouse condominium (2006). Sold: $1,420,000. Listed at $1,495,000. Living area: 3,482 sq.-ft. 10 rooms, 4 bedrooms, 3.5 bath. On the market: 69 days.

280 Brighton St. It’s new (2015). Sold: $1,246,000. Listed at $1,299,000. Living area: 4,040 sq.-ft. 12 rooms, 5 bedrooms, 3 baths. On the market: 246 days.

531 Concord Ave., Claflin-Atkins Estate, Georgian Revival (1926). Sold: $3,037,500. Listed at $3,495,000. Living area: 7,277 sq.-ft. 17 rooms, 8 bedrooms, 6 full, 2 half-baths. On the market: 125 days.

21 Dean St., Brick/frame Garrison Colonial (1935). Sold: $1,030,000. Listed at $950,000. Living area: 6,440 sq.-ft. 9 rooms, 4 bedrooms, 2.5 baths. On the market: 70 days.

62 Trowbridge Street #2, Townhouse condominium (2010). Sold: $750,000. Listed at $699,000. Living area: 1,528 sq.-ft. 6 rooms, 3 bedrooms, 2.5 bath. On the market: 36 days.

45 Springfield St #1, Condominium in two family (2014). Sold: $480,500. Listed at $439,000. Living area: 1,060 sq.-ft. 6 rooms, 2 bedrooms, 1 baths. On the market: 57 days.

23 Russell Terrace, Townhouse condominium (2011). Sold: $872,000. Listed at $842,000. Living area: 2,418 sq.-ft. 7 rooms, 3 bedrooms, 3.5 bath. On the market: 68 days.

We’ve lost our collective minds. Or at least homebuyers have. It’s right there on Dean Street. A nice 80-year-old Garrison Colonial of ground-level brick over a second-floor frame. Nothing extraordinary, on a small lot, and better than average space at 2,300 square feet. Just your vanilla Belmont house …  

… that just sold for more than a million bucks! Not located on “the Hill” or along “Gol(d)en” Street, this structure was in the heart of Belmont’s most “average” of its neighborhoods. 

If this Winn Brook sale doesn’t sounds a clarion call to Belmont homeowners to sell and reap the rewards of buying a Colonial back in the 1990s, they will have only themselves to blame if this purchase signals a housing bubble that is ready to burst.


A lovely mansion – the  Claflin-Atkins Estate – on upper Concord Avenue is one of the biggest homes in Belmont, coming in at nearly 7,300 sq.-ft. (around the same number of feet of an average 18-hole round on the PGA tour) sitting on nearly two acres of land on “the Hill.” The mansion’s southeastern exposure providing spectacular skyline views of Boston. Inside, it boasts seven-plus bedrooms, six full and three half baths, seven fireplaces, two screened porches, three levels of living space and, yes, a two-room museum that was built to show off items from the China trade.


There is an architect who needs to hide their face in SHAME for designing what has to be the leading candidate for “Ugliest House in Belmont” located on Brighton a block from Pleasant Street. Of course, it’s a McMansion, slapped up in a hurry before residents come with pitch forks and torches to prevent anymore 4,000 square-feet waste of space to be constructed.

Look at it; it’s incomprehensible! An uninviting collection of boxes and squares thrown together willy nilly – “I’ll place the dormer … here!” – with splashes of gaudy detailing, including a stone facade at the entry. Why? Not tacky enough? But the real insult to the neighborhood is its pair of driveways. Yes, two locations, one on Brighton and the other on Chilton, where the owners can dump their minivans to be an eyesore to the community. That’s disgraceful. This design spits in the faces of its neighbors. 

The thrown-together blueprint is almost childish but that would be insulting to three-year-olds who have better sense of spacial awareness than its designer. The interior is no better: what’s with all the recess lighting? Was the overall concept based on a GAP clothing store? Obviously the “open” room design will make this a dandy to heat this winter. Wait, IT IS A MALL INTERIOR! 

Oversized on the lot it took over, the pièce de résistance is the wire fence anchored in a brick wall: a little bit of Queens in Belmont. The sales information on the house calls it, and I quote, “Lowest Priced new construction in Belmont!!” Lowest priced, as in cheap.

“Oh, will no one rid me of this turbulent house?”

Taking the Happy (and Scary) Walk from Elementary to Middle School

Photo: Students during Wellington Elementary’s final walk for its 4th graders on the final day of school, Tuesday, June 22.

Sitting on the turf field outside the entrance to the Roger Wellington Elementary School on a muggy, warm last day of school, fourth-grade teacher Jessica Endres was holding court one final time with her 24 students.

“Don’t forget to come back to visit me because I’ll miss each one of you,” she told her class.

Then, with a final good-bye, Endres saw her elementary student become official middle schoolers.

“We had a great year, and it’s sad that it’s coming to an end,” she said between receiving hugs and bouquets. “They were an excellent class.”

In what has become an annual event at Belmont, students moving into new schools are given an opportunity to have a “final exit” from their current building. At the Wellington, the four classes of fourth graders are led out the school’s front entrance by Principal Amy Spangler and their teachers – Endres, Samantha McCabe, Steven Tenhor and Christina Westfall – in front of parents and family.

It’s an emotional day, for sure,” said Spangler, as the students either briskly hurried down the sidewalk or spent the time waving, saluting, dancing or blowing kisses.

“Today our kids are mixed with emotion, excited about Middle School and they’re also terrified about Middle School,” she said.

In preparation for their big move, the fourth graders spent a day at the Chenery where they were allowed them to ask any question “which is super helpful because then [Chenery Middle School Principal] Kristen [St. George] and her team can prepare the kids with real frank answers.”

As she said farewell to students she had been with for four or five years, Spangler said the end of term is always bittersweet but especially with those leaving for the final time.

“Whether it was an easy class or a challenging one, at the end of the year you know we accomplished something, they accomplished something, and we’ll miss them,” Spangler said.

“They grow on you. They’re our babies.”

Departing Light Advisory Chair Slams Light Board, Solar Advocates; ‘Pay to Play Politics’

Photo: Ashley Brown, former chair of the Municipal Light Advisory Board. ( image)

In an incendiary farewell address, Ashley Brown, the departing chair of the Municipal Light Advisory Board, blasted members of the Light Board – made up of the Board of Selectmen – and advocates of a progressive solar power policy in Belmont for trading political contributions and influence to advance an energy plan which would force Belmont Light consumers to pay an unjustified subsidy to a small number of “solar zealots.”

In a 20 minutes statement at his final meeting as chair of the advisory board, Brown targeted his wrath on the Light Board’s Sami Baghdady and its newest board member, Jim Williams, who “pay attention to the Light Board only when politics and campaign contributions are involved, and pay little or no attention to matters of much greater financial stakes and risks,” said Brown.

“Their actions clearly demonstrate that their primary concern is self-interested politics not the best interests of Belmont and its citizens,” said Brown, who along with fellow veteran, Robert Forrester, were informed last week by the Light Board, made up of Baghdady, Williams and Mark Paolillo, they would not be reappointed.

When asked after the meeting about the harshness of his comments, Brown said “it’s the truth. I stand by every word.”

Read Brown’s full statement at the end of the article.

Brown and Forrester, who have served on the advisory board for more than a decade, were strong advocates for a modest payment to solar power household – which number less than 20 in a town of nearly 9,000 consumers – for energy recaptured by Belmont Light while asking for payments for infrastructure and maintenance. 

Solar advocates have said Belmont is an outlier to other neighboring communities who have long held robust payments (or tariffs) to solar users – representing “pennies” to consumers while supporting alternative clean energy – which attracts solar installers to those towns. They point to hundreds of homes in Arlington, Lexington and Concord who are taking advantage of their town’s policies. 

For Brown, the debate over solar policy has been hijacked by money and politics to a degree that it will impact the running of Belmont Light, which is considered a “well-run” utility by nine of ten consumers, only four years after a managerial scandal that threatened the utility’s existence. 

Brown weighed in on Baghdady and Williams, saying “they have zero interest” on the operations of Belmont Light, noting that Paolillo has taken the time to understand electrical rate structures and the need for strong management. 

Brown claimed Williams “cut a Faustian bargain to get himself elected” in April’s town election with the support of “the solar lobby” to advocate policy that in a round about way violated a central tenant of his run for selectman, supporting an unfunded mandate to solar advocates.

Brown said Williams has been promoting “a solar tariff that was surreptitiously written by the founder of a solar company with the objective of maximizing the author’s profits by unnecessarily raising the rates of consumers in Belmont and elsewhere, and, indeed, the costs of installing solar itself.”

Since Williams’ campaign treasurer – while unnamed by Brown, public records identify as Claus Becker of Poplar Road – who was also the leading campaign contributor is a member of the solar lobby and would benefit from a progressive tariff, Brown claimed that involvement is a clear violation of “conflict of interest” laws.

The exiting chair said Baghdady has shown an “astonishing lack of decisiveness, backbone, and policy direction” as board chair, his position on solar power dictated by reading the “political tea leaves.”

Brown specifically pointed to an April meeting with the Light Board and the staff of Belmont Light, coming a month after the Light Board voted to indefinitely delay the start of a new rate schedule – known as the Residential Rate APV –which was approved by the board in December. 

Brown said Baghdady “resorted to  unconscionably berating and humiliating in public, a dedicated young women staff member at Belmont Light” (later identified as Lauri Mancinelli, Belmont Light’s energy resources manager), for “thoughtfully [trying] to implement the very policies on which [Baghdady] had himself signed off before becoming the head of the Board.”

“At no point, in this dramatic reversal of position did, did he ever offer a rationale that was based on policy, economics, or anything else of substance. It was raw, money and influence-driven politics,” Brown claimed. 

Brown was equally scathing in his view of  “a tiny fraction of customers who have been heavily subsidized by their neighbors because of a flaw in the tariffs, hold[ing] the town hostage to their demands for continued subsidies from their neighbors.”

“They have propagandized, spread misinformation, made innumerable and completely fabricated, ad hominum attacks,” in their efforts to secure a solar policy that could provide upwards of $20,000 to each solar household over a decade, financed by Belmont Light consumers. 

Brown claimed the solar advocates “turned to the traditional, and ethically suspect, methods of special interests, namely pouring even more cash into a political campaign to buy themselves a seat on the Light Board,” referring to Williams. 

The result of the politicizing of the town’s electrical utility is when “Belmont consumers receive their electric bills they may well be paying not only for electricity, but also involuntarily contributing to a funds that Light Board members use to reward campaign contributors,” said Brown.

Belmont Light will not and cannot survive such a regime, he said, advocating that the Light Board be transformed into an independent body whose charge “is held accountable for quality of service, productivity, and sensible policy.”

The town’s government structure review committee drafted legislation in Dec. 2012 an outline in which the Advisory Board would be a separately-elected commission. While it was received with a great amount of support from the Board of Selectmen at the time, the proposal was never advanced to Town Meeting.  

“Politics, especially of the cash and carry type is neither tolerable nor sustainable in running a municipal electric system,” said Brown.

Ralph Jones, a former Light Board member and soon to be a new member of the Advisory Board, agreed with Brown that solar advocates have dominated the agenda – “swallowing up all the oxygen in the room” – so that ambitious and creative carbon reduction programs, such as a climate action plan being developed by the town’s Energy Committee “can not get traction.”

In his final statement, Forrester said the Belmont Light “brand is sound” with its finances “is much improved” since he came on board.

“We have come a long way since the time when respected citizens of Belmont were advocating the sale of the department,” he said.

But he joined Brown in criticizing “the divisive and petty issue of small time politics” in which he unfortunately found himself at the end of his tenure. 

For the handful of surprised solar advocates attending the meeting, the Brown’s “rant” was “largely unsubstantiated,” said a solar proponent who wished to speak off the record. 

In fact, Becker, who was singled out by Brown, told the Advisory Board that he hoped that each side “could see each other as opponents and not as enemies, and I do note that when we talk one-on-one, it centers on what would be good for Belmont.”

Statement by Ashley Brown, former chair, Municipal Light Advisory Board. 

The governance structure for Belmont Light is dysfunctional.  We now have two boards, the Light Board made up of the Board of Selectmen, and the Municipal Light Advisory Board composed of appointees who are well versed in business, energy policy, and in the electricity market. One board holds all the power and virtually no expertise, while the other has vast experience and knowledge but no authority. 

When MLAB was established, the members of the Light Board realized that the electricity market had become increasingly complicated and that the town needed a governance structure that included industry- and business-specific expertise. The Selectmen concluded that a board of laymen was simply inadequate to protect Belmont ratepayers and the town’s investment in the system. It created MLAB to serve that purpose, with the expectation that eventually it, rather than the Light Board, would become the governing body.

While that never happened, the members of both Light Board and MLAB collaborated very closely.  While there may have been disagreements from time to time, members of both bodies shared a common objective of acting in the best interests of the town in overseeing a commercial enterprise entirely owned by our citizens. It was a shared sense of serving the public interest, not narrow political objectives, that forged an effective oversight arrangement.

That shared dedication to the public interest has now evaporated into a highly politicized, and frankly, ethical , morass, that threatens the viability of Belmont Light. What is particularly troublesome about this development is that it has developed at a time that Belmont Light is doing extraordinarily well. A very recent customer survey indicated a 91 percent satisfaction rating by customers, the record of service quality and reliability is absolutely superb, the energy portfolio is above the state’s standards for renewable energy, even though it is not legally obligated to be in compliance, and it is managing the biggest capital project in the Town’s history on an on schedule, on budget basis.

The management team, led by [General Manager] Jim Palmer, that has been assembled is highly competent and highly motivated. Moreover, because of management’s commitment and because of the frequent public meetings of MLAB and Light Board, the operations and finances of Belmont Light are more transparent than they have ever been.  Finally, Belmont Light has developed, in collaboration with the Energy Committee and very effective demand side management/energy efficiency program, as well as in the process of deploying smart meters and a new billing system that will enable customers to use energy even more efficiently and with less adverse environmental consequences. It is a record to take pride in.

Rather than taking pride in these accomplishments, we have seen a tiny fraction of customers who have been heavily subsidized by their neighbors because of a flaw in the tariffs, hold the town hostage to their demands for continued subsidies from their neighbors. They have propagandized, spread misinformation, made innumerable and completely fabricated, ad hominum attacks, … and argued, almost literally, that the planet would not survive if their Belmont did not continue to provide them with substantial cross subsidies from their neighbors, to help them pay for their investment in highly inefficient rooftop solar panels and to unjustly enrich the vendors who sold or leased them. 

They demand these subsidies even though they were already heavliy subsidized through tax credits and renewable energy credit programs, and despite the fact that  Elon Musk, the founder of the nation’s biggest solar vendor, Solar City, told the Edison Electric Institute last week that solar no longer required subsidies to compete once carbon was internalized into electricity prices, as all of new England has done. 

The debate over whether non-solar Belmont ratepayers should provide cash to solar customers (in some cases as high as $820 per year) has raged for four years. Despite the intensity, the governance system for Belmont Light remained intact and functional. In 2011, and then through implementing action last December, the Light Board made a decision that, would, over time, have phased out the local cross subsidies, while at the same time affording a seven year pay back for Belmont customers who chose to invest in solar.

In short, it would have lowered rates for non-solar customers while maintaining an attractive payback for solar hosts. At the urging of one member of Light Board, now the chair, there were also cash gifts bestowed on existing solar customers, compliments of the other ratepayers of Belmont.  Not coincidentally, several of those receiving the cash handouts, for which no economic justification was ever provided, were either contributors to his campaign or were relatives of contributors.

In a public meeting he said he was giving out the cash because the recipients were “pioneers.” That contrasted to his private statements, only minutes before, that those very same people were “bullies.”

The solar lobby, not content with getting a partial loaf, then turned to the traditional, and ethically suspect, methods of special interests, namely pouring even more cash into a political campaign to buy themselves a seat on the Light Board. 

They funded a very substantial part of the campaign of a candidate for the Board, who dogmatically supported the solar lobby’s party line in public, even though they were in direct conflict with his oft repeated opposition to unfunded liabilities and to local subsidies, and contrary to statements he made in private to members of MLAB. In effect, to get campaign contributions, that candidate cut a Faustian bargain to get himself elected.

Once elected, he tried, to have the Board adopt a solar tariff that was surreptitiously written by the founder of a solar company with the objective of maximizing the author’s profits by unnecessarily raising the rates of consumers in Belmont and elsewhere, and, indeed, the costs of installing solar itself. 

The Light Board member has also been trying to repeal a provision of the 2011 solar tariff that requires that solar generators eventually be compensated at market value rather than artificially high rates, paid for by imposing higher prices on non-solar customers. He quite explicitly advocated that non-solar Belmont customers should pay higher rates than they would otherwise be compelled to pay in order to heavily cross subsidize his campaign contributors. He has been doing so at the behest of his campaign treasurer, and biggest non-familial contributor to his campaign also a contributor to the campaign of the current chair of Light Board, who had the gall to state in an Light Board meeting, that solar pricing was a purely political matter, devoid of technical issues, in a public meeting of Light Board. That made transparently clear that his campaign contributions were intended to buy himself a subsidy, which in his case, amounted to approximately $820 per year for  the life of his solar panels, thus, probably amounting to  more than $20,000 paid entirely by his neighbors in town.

Curiously, the Light Board member pursuing the contributor’s agenda, never fully disclosed the identity of the person who provided the “tariff he provided. He also failed to disclose the fact that the “tariff” he was pushing, was written by a man whose business stood to be enriched by the measure being pushed. What is particularly striking about the Light Board member’s heavier is that he ran a campaign based on opposition to unfunded liabilities, but his first action as an Light Board member was to create even bigger unfunded liabilities by not allowing Belmont Light to recover all of its fixed costs from several of his campaign contributors.

Given the conflict of interest and the failure to disclose – that fact was also not disclosed by another contributor to the same campaign in his transmittal of the proposal to the other Light Board members in which he describes the author as a “resident” of the town, and failed to identify the fellow’s business interests, an act typical of the dishonesty of the subsidy seeking  lobby in town – that member of the Light Board should be prohibited from voting on any measure having to do with solar pricing in Belmont. His conflict of interest is patently clear, as is his links to the “pay to play” tactics of those who seek to put their hands in the pockets of everyone else in our town.

Intimidated by the outpouring of money and a false reading of the political tea leaves, as well as an astonishing lack of decisiveness, backbone, and  policy direction, the new chair of the Light Board, decided, without giving any explanation of his rationale, to retract the December decision. 

While he was unable to publicly articulate any policy reason for doing so, in private, he fulminated about the political consequences for himself if Belmont did not reinstate heavy cross subsidies for solar hosts and their vendors.

To disguise his inability to articulate any reason his complete reversal of position, he resorted to  unconscionably  berating and humiliating  in public a dedicated young women staff member at BL, later telling her “it was just politics.”

The deed for which he berated her was that she had thoughtfully tried to implement  the very policies on which the chair had  himself signed off before becoming the head of the board. The young woman, as a result, felt compelled to resign her position, a critical loss for Belmont Light, because she was [its] central person in establishing and coordinating energy efficiency and carbon reduction programs. 

What made the [chair’s] posture so bizarre was that he took her to task for, among other things, limiting the town’s liability for flaws in privately owned solar units, for requiring performance in exchange for payment, and for documenting the size and scale of the solar units, a matter made necessary by the nature of the cash gift the [chair’s] has bestowed on solar hosts. In effect, he not only wanted to subsidize the solar hosts, but also to relieve them of any liability for unsafe operation and to pay them regardless of whether they performed. 

At no point, in this dramatic reversal of position did, did he ever offer a rationale that was based on policy, economics or anything else of substance. It was raw, money and influence driven politics. Moreover, he refused to follow a prearranged schedule of joint Light Board/MLAB meetings to discuss these matters. He made it clear that he, who by his own admission, knows virtually nothing about electricity was going to work his political agenda and would not tolerate any input from experts either MLAB or staff.  Simply stated he did not want his political objectives interfered with by anyone who knew something about the subject. In short, he was insisting on governance by the uninformed, and subject to being heavily influenced by those who opened their checkbooks to clueless politicians willing to commit themselves to the self-serving agenda of those writing the checks.

Largely at the urging of some prominent people in town, including the third member of the Light Board, the chair, looking for political cover in a storm caused by his move to rescind the December, 2014 decision, announced [at] Town Meeting that a special expert committee would be appointed to come up with a compromise between net metering and the December tariff approved by the Light Board. In effect, the chair was telling an as yet unknown committee of experts what conclusion they should reach. Subsequently, the Committee was appointed.

Obviously, its recommendations remain to be seen, and the final actions of the Light Board are not yet known. Given past performance by the two members of the Light Board, it seems highly unlikely, regardless of what the committee recommends,  there is little reason to be confident that the Light Board will do anything  other than what is politically expedient.

For that reason, Belmont residents who do not wish to pay cross subsidize the campaign contributors to members of the Light Board, who object to the toxic effects of money and politics, should make their positions clear. For two member of Light Board, politics is all that matters when it comes to electricity tariffs., and so far the only people who are lobbying are those seeking to dip into their neighbors’ pockets.

What makes all of this even a more terrible omen for the future of Belmont Light, is that neither of the two Light Board members discussed have ever asked more than cursory questions about the large substation project, never uttered a single question about gaining pool status for the new transmission line, a multi-million dollar issue for the town, nor have they ever made any inquiry into Belmont Light’s energy purchasing or hedging strategies, one of, if not the biggest procurement activity conducted by the town. They have never even asked about pricing policy and the basis on which our customers, their constituents, are billed. Neither has any experience in or knowledge of energy markets, and neither has ever expressed any interest in learning about them, and unlike their predecessors, make no pretense of exercising due diligence in the way that corporate directors are required to do. Their oversight is strictly limited to issues they find to be of political value. 

Watching their meetings, one would have to presume that the only issue of consequence is solar pricing and that that is a purely political matter devoid of substance. Simply stated, these two members of the Light Board pay attention to the Light Board only when politics and campaign  contributions are involved, and pay little or no attention to matters of much greater financial stakes and risks. Their actions clearly demonstrate that their primary concern is self interested politics not the best interests of Belmont and its citizens.

Belmont Light has been able to serve the town because it has been run on a business like, non political basis, with a sharp focus on community service. The current majority of the Light Board, are now attempting to use Belmont Light as a vehicle for political patronage and favoritism. Amazingly, they do so without regard to, or even acknowledgement of, public policy or equity considerations.

While the pricing of solar energy is a public policy issue, neither of the two Light Board members being discussed have ever shown any interest in or even articulation of a policy or economic perspective. They simply pursue a course that they think is in their political interest and which rewards their campaign contributors. 

So when Belmont consumers receive their electric bills they may well be paying not only for electricity, but also involuntarily contributing to a funds that Light Board members use to reward campaign contributors. Belmont Light will not and cannot survive such a regime. 

The governance of the system must be reformed to assure competent, informed, and apolitical oversight. There needs to be a Board put in place that is run on a fully commercial basis and is held accountable for quality of service, productivity, and sensible policy. Politics, especially of the cash and carry type is neither tolerable nor sustainable in running a municipal electric system.