Groton Electric Light Department


Roger Beeltje
Isabel Bixby L. Bruce Clark
Robert Gould Theresa McDonough
Michael McPartlan Steve Moulton
Jay Willets


The Groton Electric Light Commission consists of three members who are elected by the townspeople. The terms are for three years and are staggered so that one is filled each year. The commissioners are the policy makers and authorize all major expenditures. The commission meets once a month in open session at the Electric Light Department offices, Station Avenue. Meeting dates are set as the second Wednesday of each month at 7:30 p.m.

Calvin T. Frerichs (term expires 1986)
Barry Cunningham (term expires 1987)
Norman R. Robertson (term expires 1985)



American Public Power Association
Northeast Public Power Association
Municipal Electric Association of Massachusetts
Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company



Submitted herewith, in accordance with the requirements of the Department of Public Utilities and Chapter 164 of the General Laws of Massachusetts, is the 75th Annual Report of the Groton Electric Light Department, for the year ending December 31, 1983.

1983 marked the 75th anniversary of the Groton Electric Light Department. In a separate section of this report, you will find a chronicle of the department’s first three-quarters of a century.

Like the previous 75 years, 1983 was a time of growth, revitalization and service to residents for the Groton Electric Light Department.

The number of customers connected to the Groton system grew again in 1983, as 149 new services were hooked up, 36 of them all-electric homes. Energy consumption and peak demand grew as well, reaching new record heights in 1983.

The 1983 peak demand of 6,300 kilowatts was up 11.5 percent over the 1982 peak, compared to an increase in 1982 of only 4.2 percent. On September 6, the system reached a record summer peak demand of 5,175 kilowatts, which was a 27 percent increase over 1982.

Energy purchases of 31,137,130 kilowatt-hours were made during 1983, representing an increase of 11 percent from the previous year. During the same period, energy sales were up 10.3 percent, reaching a new high of 26,694,850 kilowatt-hours.

The monthly use of electricity by the average residential customer increased by 2 percent during 1983. At the same time, usage by customers heating their homes with electricity was down 9.8 percent.

The conversion of mercury vapor streetlamps to more efficient and brighter sodium vapor lamps continued in 1983. By year’s end, 678 sodium lamps had been installed.

The conversion of distribution lines from 2,400 volts to 13,800 volts also continued. This program is beginning to pay off. Where power losses through transmission were 11 to 13 percent five years ago, they are only 7 to 8 percent for the last few years, which means lower costs and higher reliability.

By operating its own electric department, the town of Groton saved between $55,000 and $60,000 in 1983. This total represents the electric department’s $15,000 donation in lieu of taxes, a $45,000 savings on street-lighting costs and interest the town received on light department funds.

The Groton Electric Light Department’s customer and community service programs were another highlight of 1983. This year, as in the past, we offered off-peak electricity rates which were used by 150 customers. We also continued to work closely with the tree warden to remove trees. In addition, as in past years, we strung banners for fairs, church functions and civic organization activities.

Through Mass-Save, 84 of the 93 requested home energy audits were performed in 1983. Of those performed, 77 were for single-family homes and the remaining seven were for two- to four-unit apartment buildings. Four percent of the audited homes were heated with electricity, 58 percent with oil and 26 percent with natural gas. The audit fee was waived for 10 elderly residents.

Also in 1983, the New England Power Company (NEPCO) completed a project to upgrade the power lines that feed the town. This should improve service and reduce outages. The work was wholly funded by NEPCO.

During 1984, the electric department will concentrate on the continued conversion of the town’s distribution lines and on long-term power planning. As Groton continues to grow, so will the need for electric power. Additional and alternative sources of electricity will have to be found.

The Municipal Light Board and the manager wish to take this opportunity to thank all the people of Groton and the town departments and their employees for their sincere efforts on the town’s behalf.

Respectfully submitted,

Roger H. Beeltje Manager

Groton Electric light Department

The report of the Manager as submitted by him, with the certification of the Auditor, is hereby approved by the Municipal Light Board and constitutes its report to the Town.

Municipal Light Board

Calvin Frerichs

Norman Robertson

Barry Cunningham

On November 3, 1908, the town of Groton entered the electric age.

On that day, three citizens were commissioned “to investigate if a way can be found to generate electricity, by water power or otherwise, for lighting the town.”

The committee, which consisted of Henry K. Richards—often called the father of the Groton Electric Light Department—Myron P. Swallow and Frank F. Waters, went to work. On March 20, 1909, they informed the voters of Groton that “it would be perfectly feasible for the town to light its streets by electricity.”

They recommended that, while the town should erect its own poles and wire for street lighting and to serve commercial customers, it should not generate its own power. It would be less expensive, the committee noted, to buy electricity in large quantities from a nearby electric company.

That summer, on July 22, the voters agreed with the findings of the committee, which had grown to include two new members—John H. Robbins and George H. Bixby. They told the committee to do what was necessary “to supply light, heat and power for municipal use and for the use of the inhabitants of the town.”

With that action, the Groton Electric Light Department was born. Before the year was out, M.K. Kendall and Co. raised 450 poles, strung 25 miles of electrical cable and hung 125 street lamps—all for a grand total of $17,860. Finally, on November 20, under the direction of Walter F. Dodge, who had supervised the construction and who later served as the Department’s manager until his retirement in 1956, power from the Ayer Electric Light Company flowed through the system and the streets of Groton blazed with electric light for the first time.

It has been 75 years since that historic night. The Groton Electric Light Department has grown and changed in many ways.
There were only 25 customers served by the original system. Over the years, as both electricity’s popularity and the population of Groton grew, power lines were extended and new substations built to meet the growing demand for power. Today, electricity flows out over 93 miles of distribution lines to the department’s 2,799 customers.

As more and more customers joined the system, rates dropped dramatically. For example, it cost between 13 and 16 cents per kilowatt-hour to light the streetlamps in 1909. By 1937, the cost had fallen to between 4 and 6 cents. Individual customers paid 16 cents for every kilowatt-hour they used in 1909. They paid only 3 cents in 1936.

Rates were not the only things that changed in the early years of the department. Though the department was created to provide street lighting, the streetlights were only used on moonless evenings at first and were not left on all night. In 1916, the department abandoned its “moonlight schedule” and burned the lights every night, but they were still extinguished promptly at 12:30 a.m.

In 1917, while war raged in Europe, soldiers were quartered in Ayer. The department left the lights on until 3 a.m. “owing to the large increase of people traveling, particularly at night,” but it was not until 1927 that the lights burned until dawn. Only for two years since that year, during 1936 and 1937 when the lights were turned off at 1 a.m. to save $2,500 a year, have the streets of Groton been dark at night.

One thing that has changed only slightly over the years is Groton’s conviction, based on the recommendation of that early study committee, that the department not be a power generator, but a power purchaser. Twice in the department’s early years, Groton voters rejected proposals to build a power plant in town. While the department has maintained that early conviction, today it is part owner of various generating plants around New England, some operating and some under construction. So, indirectly at least, the Groton Electric Light Department generates some of the power its customers use.

Since its inception, the Groton Electric Light Department has worked hard to bring customers reliable electric service as efficiently as possible.
In fact, in the department’s early years, consultants twice concluded that the department’s management was beyond reproach. In 1925, Don C.G. Linnell, an engineer, was hired by the light commissioners after the town’s finance committee suggested that the light department could offer the same services for less money with more conservative management.

“The remarkable economy shown in the conduct of the affairs of the Lighting Department,” Linnell wrote to manager Dodge after looking into the construction, operation and management of the plant, “has been more forcibly impressed upon me during the past three months.”

In 1937, the manager and commissioners again hired a consultant to study the department and again the report was glowing. Here is what that second consultant concluded:

Comparing the Groton Municipal Electric Plant with other plants in the state and elsewhere, irrespective of size, I do not hesitate to say that it is of such high character in every way that even one not skilled in the construction and maintenance of electric distribution plants would at once realize the manner in which the Groton plant has been built, enlarged and maintained during its 27 years of existence.

The Groton department has proven its efficiency in handling the day-to-day business affairs and the emergencies that an electric utility encounters. Over the years, Groton has been the victim of snow, ice, lightning, high winds and fire. One of the most devastating natural disasters was a hurricane that hit the region in 1938. The storm caused considerable damage to Groton’s electrical distribution system. Though reconstruction began immediately after the storm, it was 39 days before power was restored to all customers.

In 1959, disaster struck again when lightning hit a department warehouse on Whiting Avenue. The resulting fire destroyed the building, a truck and $20,000 worth of supplies. But, by the next year, the warehouse and garage had been rebuilt on a new site near the old railroad station property.

During its most recent quarter century, the department has expanded and modernized.
In 1964, the light department enlarged its office building and four years later built a new substation to accommodate the increasing load in the Boston Road area. Modernization of the department’s billing system began in 1969 when a machine replaced handwritten bills. Billing and record keeping were computerized in 1977. This innovation proved so successful that a second computer was purchased in 1979.

The department’s equipment has also been upgraded in recent years. An auger truck, used to dig holes, was purchased in 1971. The department’s first bucket truck, an essential tool for repairing and maintaining power lines, was acquired in 1971. It replaced a ladder truck which had served Groton for 23 years.

Two new generations of streetlights have replaced the original incandescent lamps that lit Groton’s streets. Mercury vapor lights, which provide three times as much light as incandescent lamps, were first installed in 1953. Between 1981 and 1983, the department replaced all the lamps with high-pressure sodium lights, which provide still more illumination for less money.

One of the most significant modernizations in recent years was the construction of a new, centralized substation on Lowell Road. The station, which was built with a $588,000 bond issue, was completed in 1975. Eventually the new substation will replace all other Groton substations, serving as the central distribution point for all of the town’s electricity. The ingenuity of this approach won an award in 1977 from the American Public Power Association, which called the substation an “outstanding example of excellence in utility design.”

Reliability, economy and self-sufficiency. These have always been the three primary objectives of the Groton Electric Light Department.
To increase the reliability of the electric system, the department petitioned the New England Power Company (NEPCO) to upgrade the transmission lines bringing power to the town. In 1982, after a year of negotiations, NEPCO agreed to spend $2 million to improve its lines. The results of the work, completed in 1983, are fewer outages and better electric service for Groton customers.

More economical service is the goal of an on-going project begun in 1976 that will eventually see all of the town’s distribution lines converted from 2,400 volts to 13,800 volts. The project, which will take two to three more years to complete, will reduce the loss of power when electricity is distributed to homes and businesses.

In the last decade, the Groton Electric Light Department has also taken a number of steps to increase its self-sufficiency. For example, in 1975 it joined the New England Power Pool (NEPOOL), a consortium of nearly all of New England’s electric utilities.

Membership in the power pool has helped Groton save money in many ways. For example, the pool dispatches the least expensive power available to all of its members. But, more importantly, by joining the pool, the Groton electric department was able to end its all-requirements contracts with NEPCO, through which it had previously purchased all of its energy. Now, the department can pick and choose among various energy sources available in the region to find the most economical ones obtainable.

While Groton still buys some of its electricity from NEPCO, the light department currently fills most of its power needs through contracts for electricity from specific power plants. This approach to meeting its customers’ demand for electricity has saved a great deal of money.

Saving money was on the minds of town residents when they voted in 1976 to join with many other of the state’s municipal electric departments in becoming members of the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC). This “joint-action agency” acquires power in bulk for its members, helping them obtain power at the best possible prices. Through MMWEC, Groton is already receiving power from MMWEC’s modern Stony Brook plants and from a very efficient nuclear power plant in Canada. In the future, power from the Millstone Unit No. 3 in Connecticut and the Seabrook Unit No. 1 in New Hampshire will serve Groton residents.

While the Groton electric department helps obtain the most economical and reliable power available, it also helps its customers use that power efficiently. In 1980, Groton joined Mass-Save, a consortium of Massachusetts’ gas and electric utilities that performs energy conservation audits of individual homes. So far, around 140 audits have been performed in Groton.

Providing reliable and economical power to Groton’s electric consumers has been the job of Groton’s electric department since it was founded in 1909. For these past 75 years the department has worked hard to do that job in the best way possible and to serve its customers well. For, as a municipal electric department, the Groton Electric Light Department is owned and operated by its customers. The dedication, persistence and innovation that have built this department and have seen it through three-quarters of a century will remain strong as it faces the demands of the next 75 years.