January 29, 2010
Bill encourages choice, exploration
Some local residents are once again fighting to have Unitil no longer be the utility service provider for Fitchburg and some of its neighboring communities.
However, unlike previous petitions and stand out campaigns that targeted Unitil only, and did not offer real solutions to the problem, this latest endeavor involves all of the utility companies in the commonwealth, and addresses an important issue.
Bills H3087 and S1527, would allow for cities and towns to form their own municipal utility departments. Due to the passage of a bill in the 1920s, communities are prohibited from doing so. However, many legislators and residents feel this law needs to be updated, so residents are given more of a choice.
The bill is currently being debated by legislators, and Rep. Stephen DiNatale (D-Fitchburg) told the Pride this week that he is in favor of the house bill. DiNatale has been a vocal critic of Unitil, even before last December’s Ice Storm of 2008.
However, this bill reaches beyond fed up Unitil customers. Although they allege they pay the highest rates in the commonwealth, most everyone in Massachusetts thinks they should be paying less for utilities, and probably have another gripe or two with their utility company. This bill brings together all of the citizens of Massachusetts, and offers to give them something important, choice.
Forming a municipal utility company will not be the smartest option for a lot of communities; it involves a lot of work and money up front to buy the infrastructure, which is owned by the utility company that services said community. Mayor Lisa Wong admits that she is not certain that taking on this responsibility is the best choice for Fitchburg, but she has said that she would like to at least research it.
Residents have the opportunity to sign the bills, so legislators hear loud and clear how important this is to their constituents, so take the time to do so. It can easily be done by going to the Web site www. gopetition.com/petitions/municipal-choice.html.
For those without computer access, the petition will be available to sign at the Fitchburg Fire Central Station and the Lunenburg Public Library. Specific dates and times are listed in the “Get rid of Unitil” story on page 1.
Get rid of Unitil
Residents petition to pass legislation regarding utility companies
BY CAROLINE KERAS CKERAS@FITCHBURGPRIDE.COM
As the winter months drag on, the temperature on the thermostat is not the only number that is on the rise. Most Massachusetts residents have no choice but to pay the high bill that comes with heating their homes.
Due to a law passed in the 1920s, cities and towns are prohibited from creating their own municipal utility company, therefore forcing residents to use the services of investor-owned utilities. Many residents and legislators alike believe that it is an outdated law.
“The law was written during a time when a town may only have five or six telephone lines in its center,” said Rep. Stephen DiNatale (D-Fitchburg).
There are currently only 41 towns in Massachusetts with municipal departments, including such towns as Ashburnham, Belmont, Concord, Groton, and Littleton.
In an effort to override the current law, and bring competition for utility services to Massachusetts, bills H3087 and S1527 are currently being debated in the legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy. These bills will allow for cities and towns to form their own municipal utility companies.
“I think that most people want the ability to have choice, and that is what this bill would give us, is options,” said Unitil customer Cathy Clark. “It will improve service and drive down rates.”
, Unitil customers pay the highest utility rates in the state. They paid an average of $102 for about 500 kilowatt hours per month. NStar customers paid an average of $97, and National Grid customers paid an average of $82, while muni customers paid an average of $70 for the same service.
In an effort to help persuade the committee to pass the bills and to voice their support for the measures, Clark and a number of other local residents have started a petition and formed the Get Rid of Unitil group.
“We need better rates and service. I have a 60-foot mobile home and my bill is $142 this month, and I am at work all day. That is expensive,” said a Lunenburg resident in the petition, according to a press release sent out by the group.
The petition received about 400 signatures from Fitchburg residents in one week, and around 1,225 signatures total over the course of that week.
Organizers are looking for that number to grow in the next month.
“It’s not bad for the limited amount of time that it has been out there,” said Clark. “We have been putting it out everywhere in terms of social networking.”
The time to get the bills passed is dwindling, however, which is why they are trying to give all who want to sign the petition the opportunity to do so.
“It must pass in this legislative session, which expires on March 17,” said Clark.
Those who do not have access to a computer to sign the petition can go on Saturday, Jan. 30 from 10 a.m. until noon to the Community Room of the Lunenburg Public Library, 1023 Massachusetts Ave., Lunenburg, or the first floor of the Fitchburg Central Fire Station 33 North St., Fitchburg, and sign.
Organizers emphasize that any resident of Massachusetts can sign.
“Any of these IOU towns are motivated like us to get these bills passed,” said Clark.
Many residents that have IOUs in their town have already signed the petition.
“NStar is the worst example of big corporate monopoly greed. Our neighboring munis pay as little as half the amount for electricity - time for us to throw these bums out, or make them properly compete,” said an Arlington resident in the petition.
Clark said that it is not just the high cost of electricity that encouraged her to help start this campaign though.
“It is all of Unitil’s failed business practices,” said Clark.“They cannot serve us in a quality and reasonable way.”
The lack of communication and organization displayed by Unitil during the Ice Storm of 2008 is still a source of frustration for residents, according to Clark.
“People are just as angry signing this petition as they were a year,” she said.
In addition to the petition, local legislators are doing what they can to help push the bills through. In addition to making numerous phone calls and sending Emails to the members of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy, DiNatale recently sent a letter to all of the committee members that explains the bills and the importance of passing the iniaitives. He said that he will not stop there, however, if need be.
“They are going to get sick of hearing from me,” said DiNatale.
To show support for the petition, send a letter to Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, c/o Caitriona Fitzgerald, State House, Room 473B, Boston, MA 02133., or sign the petition at