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Norton eyeing power play

Friday, September 16, 2011

Norton firefighters respond to clear a large branch that fell across a road in town during the height of Irene in August. (Staff photo by Martin Gavin)

NORTON - With the town still smarting from days without power in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, Selectman Bob Kimball wants the state to help communities explore regional electric service.

Kimball raised the issue during Thursday's board meeting, saying the town might benefit if it were part of a regional electrical provider, rather than beholden to a large, private company like National Grid.

Officials and residents in Norton and other area communities powered by National Grid complained about the company's slow response and lack of communication after the storm.

They say other communities with their own municipal electric departments, like North Attleboro and Mansfield, faced relatively few problems.

Kimball noted that Norton is sandwiched between two municipalities with their own electric departments - Mansfield and Taunton - and might be in a prime physical position to benefit from their infrastructure under a regional agreement. "You have two neighbors who have their own equipment," he said.

Kimball said discussions should begin with the town's legislative delegation to see if there's any possibility the state could help with the process.

A bill is currently kicking around the Statehouse that would require private companies to sell electrical equipment, such as light poles and substations, to local communities looking to create their own municipal departments. The price of the equipment would be set by the state's Department of Public Utilities.

Similar bills have died in Statehouse committees in the past.

Kimball said he'd like to see the issue approached regionally because it might be easier to convince state leaders, who often advocate regionalizing services.

He said it would also help if the state offered some funding toward buying the infrastructure. Kimball and Selectmen Tim Giblin and Brad Bramwell said they'd like to get the ball rolling on the issue to see what, if anything, can come of it.

"The worst they can do is say no," Kimball said.