Why YOU should be able to replace NSTAR and National Grid with a Muni

09/03/2011 - Op Ed

Municipal electric districts save 23%, and you own them

Competition will bring better service from the monopolies

By Patrick Mehr,
Massachusetts Alliance for Municipal Electric Choice

Last year, NStar charged a household using 500 kWh per month $86, but the average
municipal utility (or "muni") in Massachusetts charged only $70.

After tropical storm Irene, munis restored power in a couple of days, but NStar and National Grid will take up to a week.

The best way to get NStar and other
investor-owned utilities (or "IOUs") to improve their service and reduce their sky-high rates is to end the permanent monopoly they now enjoy.

Under current State law written a century ago, no Massachusetts city or town can replace its IOU with another distribution utility, period. That's because the obsolete language now in Mass General Laws Chapter 164, Section 43 effectively gives IOUs a permanent monopoly.

We have been working for 10 years now on legislation to make it possible to replace an IOU (NStar, National Grid, Unitil or Western Mass Electric) with a muni. 41 munis already exist in Massachusetts which serve 15% of the State's population, including in Middleborough, Taunton, Mansfield, North Attleboro, Concord, Wellesley, Holyoke, Marblehead and Peabody. Since 1926, no muni was formed in Massachusetts except Devens, a special case.

After the 2008 ice storm in central Massachusetts, it took Unitil two weeks to fully restore power, while neighboring munis had completed the job in two days. Officials and residents in Fitchburg and other communities served by Unitil are since painfully aware of the impossibility to replace their local IOU absent legislative action to amend our obsolete State law.

Now again, IOUs are performing far less well than munis to restore power after tropical storm Irene as this
Patriot Ledger story relates along with a Fall River Herald-News story here.

Join the other 140 Massachusetts towns saving money and getting better service

With the support of many legislators,
over 140 Massachusetts cities and towns, the Cape Light Compact, the MMA, the Boston Globe and over 2,600 residents who signed this petition, Representative Jay Kaufman has filed for 5 sessions in a row what is now bill H869, the Muni Choice Bill. The Muni Choice Bill H869 is still in the Legislature's Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, following a public hearing before that Committee on June 8, 2011.

Bill H869 would allow a city or town, after in-depth studies and vetting by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, to acquire the incumbent IOU's local distribution infrastructure that serves the community (poles, wires, transformers, sectionalizers, substations, etc) at its fair, regulated value to start a local muni, similar to the 41 already in existence.

Investor-owned utilities address poor service and high rates more seriously when there is competition from munis

If cities and towns finally have the option to purchase their local IOU's distribution infrastructure to operate their own muni, IOUs will begin to address poor service and high rates more seriously.

If the Muni Choice Bill is enacted, very few communities will actually make the switch to a muni because the process will be complex, lengthy and expensive. But all residents, businesses and communities in Massachusetts will benefit.

Large monopolies, as Massachusetts IOUs are thanks to a century-old law, should be a thing of the past for the benefit of our economy and of our quality of life.

MAMEC is the alliance of municipalities and organizations supporting legislation to allow new municipal electric utilities (or munis) in Massachusetts (the "muni bill") - beyond 41 munis that already exist - so that cities and towns have a choice for electricity distribution.

This op-ed also appeared in