boston globe

Utilities: Power (and light) to the towns

September 9, 2009

Some enterprising communities, including Lexington, believe they can provide cheaper, better electric service to residents by creating their own municipal power and light companies, or “munis.’’ The state’s four investor-owned utilities use their political juice to block such attempts. That could begin to change today during a public hearing on legislation designed to give more communities a realistic chance to create munis of their own.

It's been more than 80 years since a new municipal power and light company has joined the current field of 41, though not for lack of trying. Current law makes provisions for communities to buy the poles, wires, and substations of major utility companies at fair value. But it also gives the utilities plenty of leeway to reject reasonable offers. The impact of that misguided provision on the muni movement has been like ice-encased branches falling on power lines.

Speaking of which, communities in central Massachusetts that lost power for as long as 13 days in December’s ice storm would have plenty of reasons to seek a local alternative to Unitil, which performed wretchedly. It’s not easy to form a muni. But the savings in money and aggravation can be considerable. The Legislature should keep a light on for the munis.