Lincoln Journal

Study: Schools could save big with ‘munis’

By Ian Murphy and Ben Aaronson/Staff Writers
Tue Jan 22, 2008

Lexington - If you think your electric bill is ugly, you should see the high school’s. Remember, you’re paying that bill, too.

A recent study of area high schools found that school districts in communities with municipal electric companies spend about half as much on electricity as districts that purchase electricity from private corporations.

Released last week, the study performed by the Lexington Electric Utility Ad-Hoc Committee examined 12 high schools: nine that bought their electricity through NStar, including Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, and three in towns with a municipal electric company, or “muni.”

The committee released the study to buoy support in the state Legislature for House Bill 3319, which would allow for the creation of more municipal electric companies in Massachusetts. No munis have been created in more than 80 years except for the town of Devens, which absorbed the former military base’s electricity infrastructure when the town was created in 1996.

From July 2006 through June 2007, the nine high schools that bought electricity from NStar paid an average of 18 cents per kilowatt-hour, while the three muni-powered schools paid 9.2 cents for their electricity.

“This comparison should clarify for municipal and school officials the benefits of municipal utilities,” said Paul Chernick, the committee’s chairman, in the report. “All the customers of munis enjoy lower rates than NStar; those savings are particularly large and important for school and municipal usage. Munis have less bureaucracy, more local focus, higher efficiency and no need to earn profits for shareholders.”

Last year, according to the study, Lincoln-Sudbury spent $665,473 for about 3.6 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) — a rate of 18.2 cents per kWh.

L-S Director of Finance Judy Belliveau said she is unsure whether Sudbury has considered a municipal electric company specifically, but that the high school has achieved significant savings in energy spending in recent years. Belliveau said the school, led by the facilities director, has improved energy efficiency and reduced electricity consumption by taking advantage of new facilities.

“With new buildings, it takes a few years to fine tune things and start to see the benefits. We definitely have reduced our consumption over the past few years,” Belliveau said.

Belliveau said the school was able to secure a favorable rate from NStar for electricity in fiscal 2009.

“I think that next year, we’ll see [the rate] will be even a little less,” she said. “So we’re doing the best we can with that [arrangement].”

Between better rates and improved energy efficiency, the school was able to decrease costs by 6.77 percent — a notable figure given the school’s current budget woes. The School Committee has proposed a 4 percent increase in the school budget for fiscal 2009, which would require Sudbury voters to approve a sizeable Proposition 2 1/2 override.

With budget pressures ever increasing and taxpayers growing weary of overrides, the school is continuing to explore various options for reducing costs, including working with business officials from other communities and school districts, Belliveau said.

Rep. Jay Kaufman, D-Lexington, is the lead sponsor of the House bill on municipal electricity, and will be on hand to present facts and answer questions at the Lexington League of Women Voters First Friday Forum on March 7. The forum will take place at 9:30 a.m. at Cary Hall at 1605 Massachusetts Ave. in Lexington.