The Landmark logo

Sterling voters urged to make their town meeting voices heard on gas service

Speak Out

December 12, 2013


If you were to look at a map of natural gas service territories in Massachusetts, you would see that Sterling is the eastern-most town in the commonwealth without gas service. We have National Grid serving Leominster to the north and Clinton to the east while NSTAR serves West Boylston to the south. Call and ask one of these companies for a gas connection and they will tell you that it is not available in your area.

As North American gas production continues to increase, the disparity in cost per btu between natural gas and heating oil is growing quickly. The cost of heating an average single-family home will soon be about twice as high for those using oil. This puts Sterling residents at a great disadvantage with our neighboring towns as it affects home values, commercial viability and tax rates.

Why no gas in Sterling? It appears to come down to simple economics. Construction of new gas distribution lines is costly. Investor-owned utilities such as NGrid and NSTAR tend to look at things strictly from the profit perspective, needing quick paybacks. A large commercial customer might sway their decision-making and already has to a point, but the typical home or small business in Sterling does not carry that kind of weight – or do they? Might there be some way to aggregate the need?

As most Sterling residents are by now aware, the Sterling Municipal Light Department is exploring the feasibility of bringing natural gas distribution service to town. There is a special town meeting next Monday, Dec. 16, when a vote will be taken to permit the Light Department to establish the gas plant entity. If it passes, a second vote at a future town meeting must be held to ratify the decision. The article is as follows:

To see if the town will vote to authorize the creation and operation of a municipal gas plant as allowed by Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 164, section 36, and place such municipal gas plant under the authority of the Sterling Municipal Light Department Light Board. Upon such authorization, the municipal gas plant shall be combined with the Sterling Muncipal Light Department to form the Sterling Muncipal Light & Gas Department, which shall do business as “Energy Sterling.”

A municipal entity such as the Sterling Municipal Light Department does not look at project payback in terms of years like the investor-owned utilities. We are in it for the long haul, thinking more about paying for projects over of decades. We are tasked with looking at what is in the best long-term interest of town residents and businesses, with no consideration for big profits.

The Light Department needs your support to make this happen. Please attend the special town meeting at 7 p.m. on Dec. 16 to hear the discussion and cast your vote.