masslive logo

Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co. marks 50 years of service (Outlook 2019 Viewpoint)

By Ronald C. DeCurzio, Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co. | The Republican, February 16, 2019

The consumer-owned Massachusetts municipal utilities have a long and storied history of paving their own way when it comes to providing superior service at the lowest cost to their customers. For these utilities and their joint action agency, the Ludlow-based Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co., the past has helped set the stage for the future of public power in the region.

The 40 municipal electric utilities in Massachusetts, of which 20 are members of Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co. (MMWEC) and 28 are project participants, operate under a not-for-profit business model based on local control over decisions affecting electric service, rates and resource choices. In Western Massachusetts, the communities of Chicopee, Holyoke, Westfield, South Hadley, Russell and Chester are served by these public power utilities.

Despite the utilities' establishment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it wasn't until the early 1960s when developments in the industry forced municipal utilities in the state to begin asserting their rights to participate in the New England Power Pool and develop their own power supply. After several years of litigation came success for the municipals, but with it came the reality that many municipal utilities couldn't do it alone.

It was 50 years ago, in 1969, when MMWEC was incorporated as the agency to help municipal utilities develop and implement their visions through the concept of joint action.

Today, joint action and the public power business model work hand-in-hand to continue bringing superior service at the lowest cost to municipal utility customers, all while supporting public policies intended to reduce carbon emissions. In 2018, MMWEC and its members developed several innovative projects, programs and services to that end. Through the end of 2018, MMWEC member utilities owned 58.2 megawatts of wind generation, 47.5 megawatts of solar and 17.5 of megawatts of energy storage, with an additional 8 megawatts of energy storage coming online this year.

The trend continues in 2019.

The Berkshire Wind Power Cooperative Corp., consisting of MMWEC and 16 of its members, will expand the existing Berkshire Wind power project located on Brodie Mountain in Hancock. Two turbines producing 4.6 megawatts of generating capacity are being constructed adjacent to the existing 10-turbine, 15 megawatt wind farm. The Chicopee Electric Light Department and the Russell Municipal Light Department are participating, along with others in the expansion project, which is expected to be completed this spring.

Chicopee also will be joined by the municipal light departments in Russell and Westfield in a power purchase agreement for the Holiday Hill wind project currently under construction in Russell. This two-turbine, 5 megawatt project is expected to reach commercial operation this year.

Several municipal light departments have new or planned energy storage projects in their communities, including Holyoke Gas & Electric, which has constructed the state's largest utility-scale energy storage system. The system will work in conjunction with the Mount Tom Solar Array, the largest community solar project in the state.

Meanwhile, the West Boylston Municipal Light Plant has just completed installation of the first of its kind in New England flywheel energy storage system, to maximize the benefits of its solar array.

The MMWEC electric vehicle program, launched in 2017, continued its growth in 2018. The South Hadley Electric Department is one of several municipal utilities supporting this initiative to encourage increased electric vehicle adoption by offering incentives to its customers on electric vehicles and chargers. The program is tailored to provide the options and choices that honor the local decision-making authority that is the foundation of the public power business model.

The Chicopee utility recently joined Holyoke in offering fiber for high-speed internet to its commercial customers and will start rolling out high-speed internet to residential customers later this year. Meanwhile, South Hadley also is launching its new fiber optic program in 2019 and is one of two municipal utilities, along with Westfield, currently offering residential fiber to the home. In the spirit of joint action, employees at Holyoke Gas & Electric, who have experience providing fiber to its customers, are assisting the staff in Chicopee and South Hadley in rolling out their fiber programs.

For its part, MMWEC has developed new peak load projection and remote dispatch services to assist its members in staying ahead of the curve with these emerging technologies. These forward-thinking programs use data, technology, infrastructure and staff expertise to help MMWEC members capture the benefits of emerging technologies by recognizing industry trends and responding to evolving customer desires.

Today, Massachusetts municipal utilities deliver the benefits of non-profit operation, local control and independent decision-making - all traditional values upon which they were founded. Enlightened by these values over a century of serving their communities, municipal utilities today are finding innovative solutions to the challenges posed by evolving public policies, wholesale power market complexities and technologies of the future. MMWEC and its member utilities will continue to meet this challenge head-on, while delivering exceptional service at the lowest cost.

Ronald C. DeCurzio is the CEO of Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co., Based in Ludlow. To learn more about MMWEC, go online to