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Environmental show on MUNIs

By Francoise LaMonica/ Special To The Tab
Wednesday, November 9, 2005

     NewTV's Environmental Show for November is about Municipal Electric Utilities, or MUNIs. There are two guests.

     Patrick Mehr serves on the Lexington Electric Utility Committee, a group formed to improve electricity distribution. He is a Management Consultant who helps technology-based companies with business strategy. He was formerly a civil servant in the French government working on energy conservation policies and the oversight of Eectricité de France, the largest electric utility in the world.

     Walter McGrath was the General Manager of the Braintree Electric Light Department, a Muni, from 1985-2002. A former president of the American Public Power Association, which represents the nation's 2000-plus publicly-owned, not-for-profit electric utilities, he has over 38 years experience in the electric power industry.

      A MUNI is an entity set up by local government to distribute electricity to the community and is usually governed by a board of commissioners. MUNIs operate similarly to large utilities, except that they serve a much smaller area and are much more responsive to the local needs of the community. Most do not generate electricity.

      In Massachusetts, about 15 percent of utilities are publicly owned and these include MUNIs in Concord, Belmont, Wellesley, Braintree, Norwood, Peabody, Reading, Marblehead, Westfield and Holyoke.

      MUNIs offer lower rates than the large investor-owned utilities. Over the last 12 years, the 15 Munis in the Boston area averaged 24 percent lower rates. Communities served by a Muni get better service; crews tend to respond more rapidly to emergencies as linemen know their territory well.

      In addition to lower rates, Munis have been investing more rapidly in sources of renewable electricity generation than investor-owned utilities. Their record in maintaining and upgrading their infrastructure is also far better. They allow for individual participation in the same clean energy programs.

     A bill has been introduced in the House by 40 legislators to make it possible for new MUNIs to be created in Massachusetts. This legislation would modify the existing century-old law which explicitly establishes this right but which provisions are too vague. The bill has been endorsed by more than 100 cities and towns, representing almost 90 percent of NStar's service territory and almost half of Mass Electric's service territory.