STATE CAPITOL BRIEFS – MONDAY, JAN. 25, 2010
FRUSTRATED UNITIL CUSTOMERS PRESS BEACON HILL
Residents frustrated with electricity service provided by Unitil announced Monday they’ve collected 1,200 signatures in a week requesting legislative action on a bill that they say will help launch new municipal electric utilities and remove statutory language favorable to large, investor-owned utilities. Get-Rid-Of-Unitil and the Massachusetts Alliance for Municipal Electric Choice are pushing for passage of bill (H 3087 and S 1527) now pending before the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, which is co-chaired by Rep. Barry Finegold (D-Andover) and Sen. Michael Morrissey (D-Quincy).
“We hope the Legislature understands the level of anger that’s out there,” alliance statewide coordinator Patrick Mehr told the News Service. “There is tremendous anger out there and dissatisfaction with our large investor-owned utilities.” The bill’s supporters say the state’s 41 municipal electric utilities charge customers less than larger companies like Unitil and NStar and provide better service. The petition, which attracted most of its signatories in Unitil service areas like Fitchburg, Lunenburg, Townsend and Ashby, calls for favorable legislative action on the bill before March 17.
Alliance members include the Massachusetts Municipal Association, MassPIRG and Environment Massachusetts. Last year, Gov. Deval Patrick signed legislation, which gathered momentum in the wake of Unitil’s poor customer service after a December 2008 ice storm, that stiffens penalties for utility companies who fail to file emergency response plans and empowers the Department of Public Utilities to intervene during a state of emergency. Mehr said the bills would amend a process that he said was established a century ago and is no longer conducive to facilitating the growth of municipal electric companies.
He said he expected a report on muni-electric issues soon from the state Department of Energy Resources. Under the Green Communities Act of 2008, the department was ordered to file by Jan. 1, 2009 the results of its study of the "fiscal impact, viability, statutory and regulatory barriers and long-term results of establishing and operating municipal-owned electric utilities in the commonwealth." A spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, which oversees the department, attributed the lateness of the report to "the time it took to scope the study, go through the procurement process for a vendor, and then the time necessary for the selected vendor to produce it." The executive office has not taken a position on the municipal electric bills.