Despite inability to change providers, Clarkson pushes forward to change the system
By Amy Carboneau
Enterprise Staff Writer
Posted Sep 04, 2011
BRIDGEWATER — Despite claims to look into other utility options in the wake of frustrating restoration efforts by National Grid after Tropical Storm Irene, Bridgewater’s Town Manager Troy Clarkson may not have a choice in the matter.
It seems the power lines are already drawn, and have been for nearly 100 years, says Patrick Mehr, the statewide coordinator for the Massachusetts Alliance for Municipal Electric Choice, or MAMEC.
But that won’t stop Clarkson from working with state Rep. Angelo D’Emelia, R-Bridgewater, and other area town managers to at least make their frustrations known and work toward a better response system in the future.
Clarkson expressed his frustration with National Grid’s response to Bridgewater last week, while thousands waited without power for days in the wake of Irene. It was not the first time response had been slow, said Clarkson, who suggested earlier last week he may begin looking into other utility options.
“We knew there were legislative impediments to doing what we wanted to do,” Clarkson said Friday, after being informed by Mehr in an email of the bill currently in the Senate meant to alleviate some of the hardships to towns who want to create their own power source.
“But it certainly won’t lessen our resolve,” Clarkson added.
The biggest frustration, said Clarkson, comes from the overall response system, which has changed over the past few years.
According to Clarkson, Fire Chief George Rogers remembers when National Grid assigned crews to a specific town in times of emergencies, and they would then work with the town to repair broken lines and restore power.
“They have shifted that responsibility to internal resources,” said Clarkson.
The power of priority then lies with National Grid, rather than the town, who likely knows better, which areas of town need fixing first, said Clarkson.
Clarkson met Wednesday with Marcy Reed, Massachusetts president of National Grid, to discuss the option to return to that previous response system. According to Clarkson, Reed said she would look into it.
In a media conference call Thursday, Reed thanked town managers and state residents for their help and understanding of a restoration process that was slowed by the fact that 5.7 million customers were without power at the height of the storm Sunday.
Unaware of the specific legalities involved in switching providers, Clarkson pointed to Middleborough Gas & Electric and the Taunton Municipal Light Plant (TMLP) as alternatives.
But according to TMLP spokesperson Cindy Angus, the electric company that serves largely Taunton and Raynham would not be able to service Bridgewater residents as well.
“The service territory is already carved up,” said Angus, who pointed to long-defined power lines between themselves and National Grid along the Bridgewater border.
The only choice Bridgewater has, said Mehr, is if the law changes.
In the past 10 years, Mehr has seen a new bill enter five separate legislative sessions in an attempt to alter the language in legislation Mehr defines as “century-old” and “impractical,” so municipalities will have the option to build their own system, while using existing poles.
Current Massachusetts law states that the current utility provider, who owns the power lines, has the right to deny a municipality the ability to buy those lines, Mehr said Thursday. But the municipality, if turned down, would be able to build their own system.
It would be like building a new Massachusetts turnpike to the side of Interstate 90 because one disagreed with the price of tolls, said Mehr. “It’s impractical.”
At this point, Clarkson said he just wants his and other town managers’ frustrations heard.
“I’m glad to see other town managers are exasperated as we are,” he said.
Amy Carboneau may be reached at email@example.com.