Newburyport Current

Push for muni-electric companies

By Cyndi Roy/ State House News Service
Friday, October 7, 2005

Saying they want the option of better service at a lower price, more than 100 cities and towns are supporting legislation that would make it easier for municipalities to establish their own electric companies.

A bill (H 3294) sponsored by Rep. Jay Kaufman (D-Lexington) and 40 co-sponsors would require investor-owned utility companies like NSTAR and Massachusetts Electric to sell their assets - poles, wires, and substations - to interested cities and towns once state regulators determine a fair market price. Municipalities could then run their own municipal electric companies, or "munis."

Testifying on the bill before the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy on Sept. 20, supporters said allowing cities and towns to control their own electric power will lead to better rates and improved service, and will increase pressure on utility companies to lower their own prices.

"There is tremendous dissatisfaction with the poor service utilities in general provide," said Patrick Mehr, a member of the Electric Utility Committee in Lexington, a town that does not have a muni. "The key purpose of this bill is not much to see new munis formed, but to create a new form of competition."

Across the state, 41 cities and towns have established munis. Residents in those communities pay an average of 24 percent less than residents who get their electricity from NSTAR, according the Massachusetts Alliance for Municipal Electric Choice. But no municipality has formed a new muni since 1926, primarily because there is no guarantee a utility company will sell its assets once a community has undergone the extensive, and often costly, process of determining its feasibility, Kaufman said.