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Lunenburg woman urges residents to sign petition

By Dan Magazu,
Posted: 01/22/2010

LUNENBURG -- A local activist is asking residents to sign an online petition urging state legislators to pass a bill that would make it more feasible for a community to form a municipal utility.

Lunenburg resident Cathy Clark is hoping to gather a few thousand signatures in support of House Bill 3087 and Senate Bill 1527, that would amend state law so a community can purchase its electric infrastructure at a fair price determined by the state Department of Public Utilities.

She plans on presenting the petition to officials at the State House prior to the end of the legislative session in March.

"The citizens want and badly need for this bill to pass," Clark said Thursday. "The session ends March 17. The time is now for legislators to move this forward."

Clark is no stranger to collecting signatures. An online survey she started last year seeking to remove Unitil as the region's utility provider collected more than 4,500 signatures. She also gathered an additional 2,000 through rallies she organized in Fitchburg and Lunenburg.

A municipal utility, or "muni," is owned and operated by the local government, rather than a private utility company, such as Unitil.

Current law allows utility companies to simply reject any offer made for its infrastructure.

Clark said the new law would, at a minimum, create the threat of competition and give companies more incentive to provide better quality service and less expensive rates.

The petition is found at It went up on Monday and had 364 signatures Thursday.

Clark formatted it with Lexington resident Patrick Mehr, a member of the Massachusetts Alliance for Municipal Electric Choice, who has been fighting for passage of the bill since 2001.

The two believe a regional municipal utility that includes Lunenburg, Fitchburg, Ashby and Townsend could be economically feasible. All four communities are currently served by Unitil.

State Rep. Jennifer Benson, D-Lunenburg, said she's hopeful the Legislature will be able to take up the bill prior to the end of the current session.

"I've been pushing very hard on this legislation," said Benson, a member of the Joint Committee on Telecommunication, Utilities and Energy. "I've met with (Committee Chair Barry Finegold) several times about it. He has some concerns, but he's interested in it and has his staff doing some research on it, which is a good sign."

State Rep. Stephen DiNatale, D-Fitchburg, said he would like to see the bill moved out of committee prior to the March deadline. DiNatale is also a member of the Joint Committee on Telecommunication, Utilities and Energy.

"I recently sent out a letter to members of the telecom committee informing them of what the bill is all about and urging them to report it out," DiNatale said.

"It may not be fiscally possible for towns to go ahead and take their utility over, but I still believe they should have that option."

Benson and DiNatale both said they are still waiting on a report due out this month that examines current municipal utilities in the state and how they compare to private utilities.

"I think there will be a lot of good information in that report," Benson said.