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Letter: Time for town to take over system

Thursday, October 6, 2005

In "Bill would make town 'munis' easier" (Sept. 22 Minuteman), an NStar spokesman asserted "Energy markets are no play-spaces for consultants or government employees."

While energy markets are certainly not "play-spaces" for anyone - including not for utility executives - NStar implies that municipal governments and their consultants are less competent than private companies (and their consultants) in operating utilities. If anything, the opposite is true: municipal utilities ("munis") tend to have lower rates, better service and fewer outages than private utilities, while providing more support to the municipality.

There are 41 munis in Massachusetts; they consistently outperform the private utilities. It is particularly cheeky of NStar, a notoriously inefficient utility, to disparage munis. In customer satisfaction, NStar is dead last in the Northeast and 75th out of 78 utilities nationwide.

In reliability, NStar's performance has been poor, locally and system-wide (remember the exploding manholes? electrocuted dogs? day-long outages in Lexington Center?). In safety - remember the overloaded poles falling onto Mass. Ave. in front of Town Hall and the burning transformer at the substation in the Center?

In customer service, NStar is famously unable to answer any questions about outages or billing problems. In community relations, NStar violates state law and breaks its repeated promises, by leaving hundreds of double poles in Lexington. NStar has refused to even discuss with the town eliminating its obsolete Center substation to free up space for a park, stores or parking or the undergrounding of lines. In pricing, NStar consistently charges households 30-40 percent more than nearby munis, like Concord, Belmont and Wellesley.

If Jay Kaufman's bill now before the Legislature passes, Lexington and other communities will have the long-overdue option to form new munis. Either NStar will improve its performance in the areas listed above, or cities and towns will take over their systems and provide better service for their residents and businesses.

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Paul Chernick
Lexington Electric Utility Ad-hoc Committee