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Study: Schools save big if they drop NStar
By Ian B. Murphy/Staff Writer Wed Jan 16, 2008

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

But if Lexington formed its own municipal electric company, like those in neighboring Belmont and Concord, the schools’ electric bills could be halved, according to a study by the Lexington Electric Utility Ad-Hoc Committee.

That study, released Monday, examined 12 high schools: nine that bought their electricity through NStar, and three in towns with a municipal electric company, or “muni.”

The committee released the study to buoy support in the state’s 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. The other three 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, Lexington $463,630 for 2.7 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) at its high school, at a rate of 17.1 cents a kilowatt-hour. The entire school district uses about 8 million kWh per year, the study said.

It also claimed that system-wide, Lexington schools could save $600,000 if the town adopted a muni. Lexington School Committee chairman Thomas Diaz said that while he was unsure if that figure was correct, he supported a longer look into adopting a muni.

“I know of no evidence that we would save $600,000,” said Diaz. “The study does illustrate the need for further investigation to see if a muni would save us money.”

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

Patrick Mehr, a supporter of munis who presented the successful article to endorse the bill at November’s Town Meeting, will also answer questions at the First Friday Forum. Mehr is a member of the Electric Utility Ad-Hoc Committee.