Westfield Gas + Electric is proud to be Westfield’s locally owned utility for more than 120 years. We supply safe and reliable power to this community at rates which are consistently 10-15% below the state average, which saves our ratepayers a tremendous amount of money each and every year. To help understand the magnitude of these savings, during 2019 alone WG+E electric and gas customers saved in aggregate well over $22 million compared to what their costs would have been had they been served by neighboring investor-owned utilities. Westfield homeowners and businesses can then utilize these savings as they see fit, often supporting the continued growth of our vibrant community.
In addition to low-cost energy services, our value proposition is supported by our efforts to provide the highest level of service. Since 2007, we have been repeatedly awarded the Reliable Public Power Provider (RP3) designation by the American Public Power Association. This award is given to the nation’s top publicly owned utility providers who demonstrate excellence and proficiency in reliability, safety, workforce development, and system improvement. Westfield is our community and we regularly go above and beyond to support it.
As a municipal department, WG+E is deemed tax-exempt, yet we have a long history of providing both in-lieu-of-tax payments and in-kind or goodwill services to the community. For the 2021 fiscal year, the Municipal Light Board authorized an in-lieu-of-tax cash payment of $566,000 which will position WG+E as the fourth largest “taxpayer” in the city. Over just the past ten years, these annual payments total more than $4.7 million.
If you attended or listened to the July Municipal Light Board meeting, there was a collaborative discussion about additional ways WG+E is being asked to support the city. This conversation was also featured in an article published by the Westfield News on July 4th and referenced in a recent letter to the editor. A significant request for additional financial assistance in the amount of $1M has been made by the Mayor, City Council, and School Committee. As we do with every decision, we will assess the options while recognizing that our ratepayers must come first. And there is clearly a difference between a ratepayer (our customer who pays for a utility they use) and a taxpayer (a person subject to or liable for paying taxes). In the meantime, we continue with our daily work of improving and maintaining our gas, electric and internet infrastructures, and supporting non-profit organizations, businesses, and the residents of Westfield. We aren’t making profits for shareholders—we reinvest right here every single day.
Our Whip City Fiber (WCF) service is an example of that reinvestment and commitment to bringing exceptional service to our community. While we wish we had the ability to provide this low-cost, high-speed internet service right now to all neighborhoods in Westfield, we must be mindful of the costs associated with expansion plans as well as our obligation to pay off the $15M bond debt taken on a few short years ago. Rest assured, future WCF expansion will occur to those areas currently without access, but it must be done in a methodical and financially feasible manner.
You may not be aware of the many additional ways WG+E supports the city and its residents. Every city-owned traffic light and streetlight in town is managed by WG+E. We converted all 4,500+ streetlights to energy-saving LED lights to reduce power costs for the city. Each year we help the city show its pride by installing flags and holiday decorations throughout the downtown corridor. We regularly work with the city and DPW to tackle various construction and improvement projects. We provide over $500,000 yearly to commercial and residential customers through our Energy Efficiency program offerings and over $50,000 to customers who qualify for low-income energy assistance. We are a fixture at local events and are often behind the scenes providing temporary power or Wi-Fi internet access. Community organizations know they can count on us for sponsorships and, on an annual basis, we provide over $50,000 in donations and support to dozens of local non-profits.
The energy market can be extremely unpredictable and unexpected catastrophic events can wreak havoc on the cost of natural gas or electricity. Perhaps you recall the impact on natural gas prices in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina? Like an insurance policy, the department’s stabilization or reserve funds can help offset those situations and help us maintain stable pricing for customers in spite of occasional extreme price volatility. We’ve used these reserve funds to also pay for unplanned repairs due to large ice storms, tornados, and costly equipment failures. This important tool in our power supply strategy ensures that we do not have to pass those added costs on to our ratepayers so they will continue to see the low and stable rates they have come to expect when they receive their bills.
The last few months have been particularly challenging for all of us. Personally, and professionally, we take that to heart. We recognize that some of our customers may be having financial struggles, and our customer service team is always available to help create a plan for getting them back on track. We can also help to connect customers who qualify with local aid services as well as provide direct support through WG+E’s Westfield Warm program. Please call us at 572-0100 should you have any questions.