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No more ‘lights out’

Thu Jul 19, 2007

If Lexington wants no more lights out (“Lights out on Mass. Ave.” July 12, 2007) it should look to nearby Concord.

Concord has its own municipal electric utility (or “muni”) — not NStar as in Lexington — that focuses on reliability and town aesthetics: Concord’s network is 40 percent underground and operates only at 13.8 kV, not the less-reliable 4 kV still used in Lexington. NStar has no plan to replace its Lexington Center substation with modern underground equipment to improve reliability and free up valuable space.

The Concord muni has 11 linemen covering Concord, about 1 lineman per 1,500 residents. NStar has an estimated 42 linemen to cover 10 communities — including Lexington — out of its Waltham service center, about 1 lineman per 7,000 residents.

With over four times more linemen, the Concord muni restores power faster than NStar: In January 2006, a wind storm caused similar damage across Concord and Lexington, leaving many Lexingtonians without power for 6-12 hours, while Concord restored full electric service in just four hours.

During 1998-2003, Concord Center had a couple of outages each lasting less than two hours; after a 2003 equipment upgrade, Concord Center has had no more outage. Since 2003, Lexington Center suffered at least four outages each lasting 4-6 hours. Customers notice: JD Power's 2006 customer satisfaction survey ranked NStar 48th out of 49 utilities nationwide, next to last.

Moreover, the Concord muni charges less than NStar. Last year, 500 kWh per month cost a household $62 in Concord, but $103 in Lexington from NStar, 67 percent more. The Concord muni billed its customers $18.5 million in 2006; at Nstar’s rates — like in Lexington — the amount would have been $34 million. Concord residents and businesses saved $15.5 million because of their muni.

Lexington's Town Meeting and Board of Selectmen unanimously support legislation to allow new munis, something NStar strongly opposes in order to maintain its current monopoly.
Rep. Jay Kaufman leads 53 legislators in sponsoring Bill H3319 (see, but the chairmen of the committee considering this legislation receive each year 7-14 percent of their campaign funds from NStar and other large utility executives. Gov. Deval Patrick stated, “I see ... municipal electric utility companies adding competition and lowering consumer prices” as a candidate, but he recently attended a fund-raiser co-hosted by Nstar’s CEO.

Jay Kaufman and the selectmen have serious work to do if Lexington is to ever have a muni.

Patrick Mehr Woodcliffe Road Town Meeting member and member of the selectmen’s Electric Utility Ad-hoc Committee