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Wrentham considering a power play

Selectmen looking into town electric operation, breaking from National Grid

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

wrentham Ngrid
Wrentham is considering dropping National Grid, seen here working in Attleboro, following widespread power failures from Tropical Storm Irene. (Staff file photo by Tom Maguire)

WRENTHAM - The town's widespread power outage from Tropical Storm Irene has selectmen considering whether Wrentham should break away from National Grid and start its own municipal electric company.

Selectmen decided last week to look into the option.

Area towns with their own electric operations, such as North Attleboro, Mansfield and Norwood, fared better than Wrentham and other communities with outages, Selectmen Chairman Joseph Botaish said.

While much of Wrentham was in the dark until Sept. 1, when 772 of its 4,645 customers were still out, a smaller percentage of customers lost electricity in North Attleboro and Mansfield, and many of those saw power restored by Aug. 30.

"Significant areas were without power" until Friday night in Wrentham, Town Administrator William Ketcham said. Ketcham said there were several problems with National Grid.

"I think there were generally not enough electrical line people available," Ketcham said. "There were problems with internal communication at the utility and from the utility back to the town."

The town "can certainly investigate" starting its own electric department, the administrator said.

Wrentham may want to reach out to neighboring communities such as the other King Philip towns of Plainville and Norfolk to see if they are also interested in starting their own electric company, Ketcham said.

"I think it's something worth looking into," Botaish said of the town forming its own electric department.

Other board members agreed. "I think it's a good idea, particularly for people in the west end," Selectwoman Gail Pratt said.

Selectman Michael Carroll, who recently retired as town administrator in Seekonk, had some concerns.

"I don't think the cost will justify the benefits, if every 20 years you lose electricity," Carroll said, referring to Hurricane Bob causing the last major power outage in the region.

"Weather patterns are going to change," Botaish said. "We have had severe winters, seen tornadoes, earthquakes. I don't think it will be another 20 years."

Carroll suggested looking at communities comparable to Wrentham's population that have their own electric operations.

While state law allows for municipal power companies, of which there are 41 in Massachusetts, a bill once again pending before the Legislature would allow cities and towns the opportunity to buy a local transmission system from the company that owns it.

STEPHEN PETERSON covers Wrentham for The Sun Chronicle. He can be reached at 508-236-0377 or at