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Support ‘muni’ legislation
By Steve Kropper/Pleasant Street Thu Jan 31, 2008

Lexington - Sure, it would be costly for NStar to place wires underground: “around $1 million/mile.” (“Outages plague area after snowstorms,” Jan. 17, 2008). Concord’s municipal electric utility (“muni”) has buried 40 percent of its network underground over the past few decades, at $600,000 per mile. NStar charged Bedford Great Road five times more.

Of course, the benefits of a muni are not just underground. Munis like Concord’s charge less than NStar for power: 40 to 50 percent less for a typical household and the power for a high school costs roughly half of what NSTAR charges.

My East Lexington neighborhood was without power overnight for 16 hours (Jan 14-15) when four NStar poles collapsed. While a muni won’t prevent ice storms, burying lines would reduce the local network’s vulnerability. Also, since management of a muni is local, it is usually more responsive and has better knowledge on the distribution land than a regional utility.

So, a muni would bring lower rates, make burying wires more affordable, and that would reduce outages. Would property values rise if the streetscape were uncluttered with wires? In a few Lexington neighborhoods, buried lines already improve the aesthetics and values.
A simple analysis says that uncluttered streets might boost values by 0.5 percent or $35 million town wide, while the cost to bury lines on all streets might cost $75 million (at $600,000 per mile). Focusing on the 20-year average for home price appreciation (just under 6 percent), and using the last Annual Town Report to determine the value of residential property, the 0.5 percent boost is an estimate of what environmental improvements drive appreciation.

Competition dispelled the myth that phone and cable TV were “natural monopolies.” So let’s support Rep. Kaufman’s legislation giving Lexington the option to acquire Nstar’s local plant (at fair value). Then we can explore the benefits of our own muni, and answer the age old question: If a tree falls in the woods (and snags a power line), does it make any sound? If we buried the power lines we’d keep the lights and the TV on.