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DiNatale: Utilities a 'monopoly'

By Erin Smith,

BOSTON -- The rally cry to "Get Rid of Unitil" surfaced after the major power outages in the Fitchburg area during the ice storms in 2008.

Cathy Clark, a Lunenburg resident who started a website to promote the cause, still wants to get rid of the electric company serving Townsend, Lunenburg, Fitchburg and Ashby, and replace it with a regional municipal-run utility, or "muni," in an effort to gain better service and rates.

"The true hope is this bill can pass so at least competition can be introduced," said Clark.

No municipality has formed a new muni since 1926, according to the Massachusetts Alliance for Municipal Electric Choice. That's because utility companies can block the creation of munis by refusing to sell wires, poles and substations to the local government.

Rep. Jay Kaufman, D-Lexington, filed a bill that would require electric companies for sell their infrastructure for its assessed value.

It's set for a public hearing in the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy on June 8 at 10 a.m.

Rep. Stephen DiNatale, D-Fitchburg, a member of the committee and a co-sponsor of the bill, said Kaufman has filed the same bill for about six years and each time the bill fails to make it to the House floor for a vote.

Clark worries lobbyists for the powerful utility companies are blocking the bill.

Meanwhile, DiNatale is hopeful a change in leadership on the committee will finally result in the bill being brought to a vote.

"I think the importance of this bill is it gives a choice. Right now we don't have a choice. For lack of a better term, it's a monopoly," said DiNatale. "I think we make a pretty convincing argument why this makes sense."