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Task force pushing for municipal utility bill

By Dan Magazu,

Posted: 09/03/2009

LUNENBURG -- Members of the Lunenburg Utility Task Force will urge state legislators next week to pass a bill that would make it easier for communities to form a municipal utility.

"Helping to get this bill passed is our number one priority at this point," Task Force member Carolynn McCarthy said Wednesday. "If and when it does get passed, then we will be focusing on the economic feasibility of creating a municipal utility in Lunenburg."

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

House Bill 3087 and Senate Bill 1527 would amend state law so a community could purchase its electric infrastructure at a fair price determined by the state Department of Public Utilities.

Current laws allow a utility company to simply reject any offer from a city or town.

The bills are scheduled to go before the joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy on Sept. 9, McCarthy said.

"Residents and officials from Lunenburg, Townsend, Ashby and Fitchburg will be attending that meeting to urge legislators to move the bill forward," McCarthy said.

The Board of Selectmen created the Utility Task Force earlier this year to investigate the possibility of forming a municipal electric utility to replace Unitil.

The move was driven by Unitil's response to the Dec. 11 ice storm, which left residents in town without power for up to two weeks.

The Utility Task force went before the Board of Selectmen Tuesday to update members on their efforts. They do not yet have an estimate about what it would cost to purchase the electric infrastructure from Unitil.

Tom Alonzo, who is chairman of the board, agreed to appear at the Sept. 9 hearing to lobby for passage of the legislation.

McCarthy said six communities in the region operate municipal utilities and all of them pay lower utility rates than residents served by Unitil.

"Communities should at least be given the option of forming a municipal utility," McCarthy said.
Cathy Clark, Unitil's most vocal opponent, said Wednesday she is trying to get a bus to drive people into Boston for the hearing on Sept. 9. She is looking for residents to ride on the bus.

"We have a handful of people right now from our grassroots movement group," Clark said. "But we want more people. We feel it will make a stronger statement."

Anyone interested in receiving a ride to the hearing should contact Clark at