LETTER: Olin Lathrop for Light Commissioner
My name is Olin Lathrop, and I’m running for Light Commissioner.
You may be thinking “But the lights are on, the rates low, and the service great, so why should I give this more thought than just voting for the incumbent?” Good question. That’s exactly what I’d do too if I wasn’t aware of details.
Things work well at GELD because we have a great manager, Kevin Kelly, and a well-motivated, capable staff that goes the extra mile and is compensated well in return. We are also fortunate today that commissioners of the past have made sound decisions to put us in a good present position.
The problem is that some of the good decisions of the past and the planning for a solid future almost didn’t happen. Prudent future planning is at risk. It is easy to take our light department for granted because it is working well. Unfortunately, by the time it is no longer working well, it’s too late to fix. This is why you need to pay attention to this issue now. We must keep things going well, not wait for little problems to become big problems.
One of the problems is the commissioner running for re-election this year. Some things went right despite him, not because of him. Let me give you a few examples, all from the last 3-year term:
1 - The permitting for the new GELD building on Station Ave was a contentious process, with mistakes made on both sides. This cost GELD more than expected in time, effort, and money. Partly to offset some of the cost and partly as a protest, GELD significantly lowered its voluntary PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) to the town that year.
A year later, in April 2014, the town had changed its process to address some of the problems GELD encountered, and GELD has gained some experience with the permitting process. Things were proceeding much more smoothly. It was clearly time to patch things up, and for GELD to work cooperatively with the town.
However, the incumbent advocated strongly for a continued lower PILOT, despite Manager Kelly warning that this may impede cooperation and harm the overall process. The town was willing to waive a key fee in the new spirit of cooperation, which likely wouldn’t happen if the lower PILOT was continued. In fact, this fee was nearly the amount the PILOT was lowered, so paying the higher PILOT and getting the fee waived was about even financially.
The only real difference was cooperation versus antagonism. Incredibly, the incumbent was adamant about doing the latter. Eventually this made it difficult for Manager Kelly to work with the town, so a special Light Commission meeting was held where the full PILOT was restored.
2 - When the incumbent was asked what the town would have to do for him to agree to the full PILOT, he replied, in a public meeting, that the selectmen would need to unappoint all existing Conservation Commission members and appoint new ones.
3 - The incumbent voted against the solar farm on the landfill. The right decision was made 2 to 1, but the town came within a single vote of not getting the solar farm. The equipment will be installed and maintained by a private company at no cost to GELD. GELD’s obligation is simply to buy any power produced at 5.5 cents per killowatt-hour.
I recognize, that with rare exceptions, the people on opposite sides of an issue are sincere and well meaning. Disagreements arise because of different life experiences, expertise, and values. Confrontation is unwarranted and ultimately ineffective anyway. We won’t all agree on every issue, but I never forget that we’re all in this together.
I have lived in town since 1985 and had a son grow up and go to school here. I was one of the founding members of GDSTEM (non-profit to promote technology education in the G/D schools) and served as its president for two years. I am currently on the Trails Committee, a founding member of the Invasive Species Committee, the Conservation Commission. I lead monthly hikes on Groton conservation lands.
I earned a Master’s degree in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and have been professionally designing electronics and writing firmware ever since. I have worked for Hewlett Packard, Raster Technologies, Apollo Computer, and Radianse. For the last 20 years I’ve mostly been doing electrical engineering consulting through my own company, Embed Inc. I recently became the Chief Engineer of Jowa USA, a small company in Littleton.
I ask for your vote on May 17th.