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Legislators encouraged by 'muni-electric' bill

By Matt Murphy, Sentinel & Enterprise Statehouse Bureau

BOSTON -- Local lawmakers Monday abandoned a back-door attempt to force a vote on legislation that would make it easier for communities to set up municipal-owned electric companies, saying they were encouraged by progress being made in negotiations with House leadership.

State Rep. Stephen DiNatale, D-Fitchburg, and Rep. Jennifer Benson, D-Lunenburg, said last week that they may try to force a vote on the bill yesterday by attaching it as a amendment to the broader municipal relief act, which was approved Monday.

Though the amendment was filed, it never came up for debate or a vote.

DiNatale, after the municipal relief bill was passed, said he and other lawmakers were in the midst of negotiations that could "work out even better."

"We're working with Chairman (Barry) Finegold and we think we've got a good resolution that precludes us from debating it right now. But there will be a debate and a vote," DiNatale said.

The bill, known as the "muni bill," would make it easier for communities to set up municipal electric companies by allowing the state Department of Public Utilities to set a fair-market price for a town's electric infrastructure. Current law requires towns to negotiate a purchase price for poles, wires and equipment with the current electric provider and allows investor-owned utilities, such as Unitil Corp., to simply reject any offer.

DiNatale and Benson had been discouraged that the bill appeared to be stalled in the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, chaired by Finegold, an Andover Democrat.