boston globe


Compare munis with investor-owned service providers
January 2, 2009

KUDOS ON your Dec. 29 editorial "
The power of municipal power." An "aggressive investigation" of investor-owned utilities (IOUs) would help us learn from the best practices of municipal electric utilities (munis).

The average muni charged $72.31 in September for 500 kilowatt-hours of electricity, but our IOUs, Unitil, NStar, and National Grid, charged, respectively, 45 percent, 43 percent, and 19 percent more. Collectively, NStar customers spend $750 million "too much" each year because NStar's rates are higher than those of munis.

In 2006, NStar had one lineman per 7,000 Lexington residents served. Concord's muni had one per 1,500 residents, almost five times more. Are IOUs understaffed compared with munis?

The general manager of a muni can earn as much as $120,000 per year. NStar's five most senior executives received a total of $17 million in 2007. Do IOUs compensate their executives like Wall Street financiers? Does that affect how much IOUs can spend on preventive maintenance?

Municipalities want the option to form new munis because munis provide better service and lower rates than IOUs. The Legislature should adopt the bill, proposed by Representative Jay R. Kaufman, Democrat of Lexington, and endorsed by the Massachusetts Municipal Association, that would ease this process.

Patrick Mehr
The writer is a member of the Lexington Electric Utility Ad Hoc Committee.

Storm's aftermath underscores value of municipal utilities
January 2, 2009

"MUNIS" DO it better. That seems to be the essence of the Dec. 29 editorial "
The power of municipal power," about the sluggish response to power outages on the part of Unitil, the large privately owned utility that left thousands of Fitchburg residents in the cold for more than a week. As your editorial pointed out, small, municipally owned electric companies responded quickly to felled power lines, and restored power to their customers.

Like a giant on a soccer field, big utilities tend to be less able to quickly respond to changing circumstances. Besides providing swift customer service, munis tend to be better environmentally, too. Local generation ensures that electricity does not travel far to get to its destination and that less power is lost during transmission.

Municipal power companies can also do more to take advantage of the renewable energy sources in their local community. For example, in Hull the municipal utility tapped into the local wind power potential to provide customers with clean, renewable, and low-cost electricity.

Municipal ownership and operation of renewable sources of energy can play a key role in moving our country toward a green economy.

David Christopher
Preservation associate
Environment Massachusetts, Boston