Pasted Graphic

Muni-bill down but not out on Beacon Hill

By Michael Phillis/Staff Writer
GateHouse News Service
Aug 19, 2010

Lexington — It might be down now, but advocates want to shock their bill back to life.

A bill that would have allowed towns to create their own municipal electric companies has essentially died in committee, according to state Rep. Jay Kaufman, D-Lexington, the bill’s sponsor.

According to Kaufman, the bill got hung up in the House Ways & Means Committee and was not released for a vote.

Boiled down to its most basic element, the bill would have given towns a kind of public option for their electricity and made it easier for towns to start a municipal electric company or munis.

According to supporters of Kaufman’s bill, Massachusetts’s inventor-owned utilities (IOUs) like NStar do not generate their own electricity. Instead, they distribute electricity to users. IOUs also, according to supporters of the bill, have almost full veto power to decline a town’s proposal to distribute electricity to its residents itself.

Kaufman said he is planning to introduce a similar bill at the beginning of the next legislative session.

Back in March a petition signed by 2,275 state residents asked the Legislature to pass the bill. The petition read, “We, the undersigned citizens of Massachusetts, respectfully request the legislature to act favorably on the municipal electric utilities choice legislation (Bills H3087 and S1527) before March 17, 2010.”

While that may not have happened, the petition demonstrated some support for the bill and received positive attention from Gov. Deval Patrick.

Patrick said in March, “The bills under consideration are a step in the right direction and will allow residents greater local control and input.”

Paul Chernick, who helped author the legislation, said the bill was close to being put up for a vote this past year.

“We have gotten it further each time and we have been through three or four sessions now. We got to within the 10 year line with this one,” said Chernick. “We got close and then the clock ran out. If we had been there and had a couple more months we might have had it.”

“What’s frustrating is that the facts weren’t enough,” said Kaufman of his efforts to, with the support of 40 other co-sponsors, pass the legislation.