Pasted Graphic

Bill would let towns form their own electric company

By REBECCA FATER, Sun Statehouse Bureau

BOSTON -- Residents could soon be mailing their electric bill to an address a little closer to home -- their own municipal light company.

Legislators this week heard arguments for a bill that would require major utility companies to sell their poles, wires and other electrical equipment to cities and towns interested in taking on the job of supplying electricity themselves.

Supporters say passage of the bill will give residents more options, as well as a chance at lower prices, when it comes to purchasing electricity.

"The idea is to remove some of the red tape for municipalities who want to establish their own (company)," said Sen. Robert Antonioni, D-Leominster, one of 40 co-sponsors for the bill. "That's the goal: to allow more choice for residents and their families."

Currently, there is no guarantee that major utility companies will sell their supplies to municipalities, leading many communities to forgo any attempt.

Nor is there any guarantee that municipalities have the knowledge, finances or capability to run their own electric companies, an issue that concerns Rep. Daniel Bosley, D-North Adams.

"It's very expensive, and towns aren't indemnified for those expenses," he said. "We have to be very cautious, because not all municipalities are going to know how to run an electric company."

Forty communities across the state currently operate their own municipal light companies, said Kevin Goddard, public-relations manager for Littleton Electric Light. Littleton established its own autonomous electric company in 1912. A general manager and an elected board of commissioners run the company, whose rates are consistently 30 percent below those of major utility companies, he added.

"We're not concerned about profits," Goddard said. "And there's the added value we bring to the community through philanthropic efforts, like sponsoring events."

The bill would require interested communities to undergo a state review determining whether they are fit to start an autonomous company, and it would limit establishment of municipal electric companies to three per year.

"The big utilities don't like it because it's cutting into their turf," Goddard said. "Anything that empowers towns to serve their taxpayers and ratepayers in a better way is something I support."

Rebecca Fater's e-mail address is