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Legislator says Framingham's power system needs change

By Scott O'Connell/Daily News staff
The MetroWest Daily News
Nov 02, 2011

FRAMINGHAM — In the wake of last weekend's freak nor'easter that knocked out power all over town, state Rep. Chris Walsh says it's time to consider changing to Framingham's power infrastructure.

Walsh, a Framingham Democrat, said yesterday that he may file legislation that would give towns the ability to take out bonds to pay for burying power lines. The same measure would also require utility companies to use those lines instead of overhead wires.

Walsh also said local officials should consider starting a municipal power company like other towns in the region, including Hudson and Shrewsbury.

The overriding message from the weekend snowstorm and Tropical Storm Irene in August - both knocked out power for days - is that Framingham's current power line system is no longer adequate, Walsh said.

"They weren't very big storms,'' he said. "I think what's happened is our power grid has outgrown its ability to be robust.''

Walsh is not the first to call for more municipal control over power. After Irene, many lawmakers voiced support for legislation that would make utility companies sell infrastructure to towns so they could run their own power systems. That bill, House 869, is under consideration by the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy.

Patrick Mehr of the Massachusetts Alliance for Municipal Electric Choice, which supports the bill, said municipal electrical companies like Hudson's have twice as many linesmen as private companies. They're also more familiar with their town's infrastructure, he said.

"They maintain it much better,'' he said. "They run a Cadillac, while the private companies run a Yugo.''

But Michael Durand, a spokesman for NStar, which handles Framingham's electrical supply, said most of the company's employees also live in the area. He also said residents should remember that last weekend's storm, while not as powerful as a typical winter nor'easter, was historically potent for the season, coating still-leafy trees with wet, heavy snow.

"It was unprecedented for this time of year,'' and Framingham was one of NStar's hardest hit towns, Durand said.

About 1,750 residents - about six percent of NStar's customers in Framingham - still didn't have power as of noon yesterday, so the company is bringing in crews from elsewhere in the state to help restoration efforts.

Walsh said the severity of the storm shouldn't cloud the fact that the town's power system is antiquated.

"We don't have a power highway. We have a power cart path,'' he said. "We have to look to the future.''

(Scott O'Connell can be reached at 508-626-4449 or