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Town signs on to energy bill
By Pru Sowers Thu Oct 02, 2008

PROVINCETOWN - The town has joined a growing list of organizations and state legislators supporting a proposed bill that would make it easier for municipalities to form their own electric company.

Selectmen voted 4-0 last week to support house bill 3319, which calls for the state to rewrite a law that outlines the process a city or town must follow to acquire the distribution infrastructure from a local investor-owned utility, which, in Provincetown’s case, would be the existing electrical lines owned by NStar. H3319 would clarify the law to state that once a fair value had been established for the infrastructure, the sale must occur.

Selectman David Bedard brought the issue to his board, saying that the bill would be a step towards helping Provincetown become its own electric producer. Being able to control the electricity generated by a wind turbine, instead of selling it back to NStar would lower rates, Bedard said.

“Because of where we’re located, I think some kind of regional wind project would be interesting. We have it on [the selectmen’s] list of town-wide goals this year so that’s why I’m pushing it,” he said.

While state law allows towns to form municipal electric companies, called “munis,” no town has done so since 1926 because of a chapter in the law written a century ago that makes the process impractical. H3319 would streamline the process of forming a muni by requiring existing electrical companies to sell their distribution network in a specific area to the local municipality. The proposed bill would also limit the number of new munis formed each year to three. There are currently 41 existing munis in the state.

Provincetown has dabbled with the idea of building a wind turbine to produce electricity it could use to power town-owned buildings. Wind conditions at the end of Cape Cod appear to favor a turbine and the local recycling and renewable energy committee has been trying to move the process along. Selectmen have directed town manager Sharon Lynn to set up a meeting with the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative to discus taking the next step, which would be to find grant funding for a yearlong wind study.

In the meantime, Bedard said he would like to move ahead on another front to reduce the town’s electric bills by clearing the way for state municipalities to form their own muni.

Merely installing a wind turbine wouldn’t significantly reduce the cost the town pays to NStar, Bedard said, because the town would still have to pay NStar to distribute the power to individual buildings.

“We’re in a perfect position to do this. We’re only connected to the [electrical] grid with one power line. It should be easy to cut ourselves off,” he said.

H3319 has been endorsed by 115 cities, towns and organizations, including the Cape Light Compact. The bill was filed by state Rep. Jay Kaufman and is co-sponsored by 53 legislators.

A 2007 study done by Lexington Electric Utility Ad-hoc Committee compared electric costs for a large Massachusetts grocery store chain operating in Massachusetts in areas served by munis, NStar and the National Grid. NStar and the National Grid are both investor-owned utilities.

The study found that the stores served by munis paid an average of 11.3 cents per kilowatt hour, while stores served by National Grid were charged 13 cents, and those served by NStar paid 14.5 cents. The Lexington committee estimates that munis can reduce electric costs for consumers by an average of 24 percent.

Pru Sowers can be reached at