Pasted Graphic

Job 1? Making sure the lights stay on

Sullivan keeps family tradition alive at Ashburnham Light Plant

By Amanda Burke,


ASHBURNHAM -- The man responsible for making sure all of the town's 3,000 customers have steady access to affordable power is a Bay State transplant and master electrician who places a premium on customer service.

"I like using my hands, working outside, and the challenge and theory associated with the subject matter," said Kevin Sullivan, who on Tuesday, his 15th day as the new general manager of the Ashburnham Municipal Light Plant, fielded calls on the cellphone that was strapped to his workpants.

Pasted Graphic
Kevin Sullivan, new general manager of the Ashburnham Municipal Light Plant, brings many years of experience to the job. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / JOHN LOVE

Sullivan, 59, comes from family of electricians. His dad, brother and uncles all practiced the trade. He now leads a team of nine employees who run on of the commonwealth's 41 municipal light plants.

Just over 10 percent of communities in the state manage their light plants locally. Towns that own their own non-profit electrical facilities, such as Ashburnham, offer cheaper service than those using investor-owned corporations like Unitil, Sullivan said.

"Customer service and local control, those are the biggest two benefits," Sullivan said. "At the end of the day, your rates are going to be lower with a municipal light plant."

Raised in Long Island, the father of three adult children started his career in the electrical field taking four years of night classes. In 1992, moved to Nashua, New Hampshire, where he earned a masters in business administration from Daniel Webster College, which recently closed.

After graduating, Sullivan got a job in working in the control room at the historic Boston Edison Illuminating Company, later bought out by N-Star before its final sale to Eversource Energy.

He went on to manage operations at municipal light and gas departments in Reading and Wakefield before becoming assistant superintendent at Wellesley Municipal Light Plant.

Sullivan said he learned keep calm in the face of massive electrical outages in the early 2000s, when about 120,000 N-Star customers were kicked off-line. The company went into damage control, and slowly brought communities back onto the grid by prioritizing those who require electricity to power medical machinery.

"You learn real fast what fatigue means," said Sullivan, who even when he's not working does all the electrical work at his home in Hudson.

Among Sullivan's goals in his new post are setting up monthly meetings with Town Administrator Heather Budrewicz to "better understand the needs of the community."

He also hopes to take steps that could help lift a townwide moratorium on installing new solar arrays, which applies to both commercial and residential solar units. The moratorium began in 2015 when the light plant discovered local panels, including a four-megawatt array on Murray Road, were generating more electricity than residents used in off-peak months.

To solve this problem and allow more households to install solar energy system, the town has applied for a grant to partially fund what would essentially be a huge battery for storing solar energy -- a piece of equipment that could cost between $2.5 and $3 million, Sullivan estimates.

"It's great to lead an electric utility in support of a community," he said.