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Patrick pushes muni bill

By Dan Magazu,
Posted: 03/13/2010

LUNENBURG -- Supporters of legislation that would make it more feasible for a community to form a municipal utility got an endorsement from Gov. Deval Patrick this week, as the deadline to move the bill out of the committee level for a vote approaches.

House Bill 3087 and Senate Bill 1527 would amend state law so a community can purchase its electric infrastructure at a fair price determined by the state Department of Public Utilities. Current law allows investor-owned utilities, such as Unitil, to simply reject any offer.

Patrick recently signed a petition in support of the new legislation. The petition was created by Lunenburg resident Cathy Clark and 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.

"We're thrilled that the governor signed the petition and recognized the need for communities to have a choice," Clark said Friday. "I had hoped he would have signed it sooner. We harassed the heck out of him."

Patrick signed the petition Thursday.

"The bills under consideration are a step in the right direction and will allow residents greater local control and input into utility investment policies and decisions, services and service levels," Patrick wrote on the petition. "I look forward to reviewing the final bill when it reaches my desk."

The petition, which is found at, had been signed by 2,241 people as of Friday, including Republican gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos and State Treasurer Tim Cahill, who is running for governor as an independent.

State Rep. Stephen DiNatale, D-Fitchburg, said the joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, of which he is a member, recently voted to extend the deadline for reporting out the legislation during the 2009-10 legislative session.

"We just voted on Wednesday to place this into an extension," DiNatale said Friday. "The deadline had been March 17, but now we've got another month."

State Rep. Jennifer Benson, D-Lunenburg, also sits on the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy and has been advocating to move the legislation out of the committee for a vote.

DiNatale said he's hopeful the bills will be voted on during the current session. He said he was not surprised to hear that Patrick had signed the petition in favor of the legislation.

"I think he's been on board with this for quite some time," DiNatale said.
Advocates of the law argue that it would, at a minimum, create the threat of competition and give companies more incentive to provide better quality service and less expensive rates.

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