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Proposal to Establish More Municipal Utilities in MA

Massachusetts lawmakers say they need more time to consider a proposal that would clear the way for establishment of more municipal electric companies in the state. WFCR's Helen Barrington reports.

Members of the Telecommunications Committee have moved a planned vote on the issue from mid-April to mid-June.

Bill supporters say municipal electric utilities offer better rates and service than larger power supply companies. But they say state law gives those large investor-owned utilities a market advantage while discouraging the formation of municipal companies.

Patrick Mehr is a spokesman for the Massachusetts Alliance for Municipal Electric Choice. He says state law now allows big utilities to charge exorbitant prices to any municipality that wants to take over part of their business: “The problem with the current statute is that it effectively allows the incumbent utility to refuse to sell at the fair price determined by the State Department of Public Utilities, which effectively blocks the formation of any new municipal utility, which is in great part why none has been formed in Massachusetts since 1926.”

The Alliance and another group called Get-Rid-Of-Unitil submitted petitions signed by more than 2,200 people to the Telecommunications Committee.

Two thirds of the signatures were collected from four communities, Fitchburg, Lunenburg, Townsend and Ashby. Those towns are now served by Unitil. The company was fined for its slow response to power outages caused by an ice storm in December of 2008.

Five of the six candidates for Governor also signed the petition. Representative Barry Finegold, the House chairman of the Committee, says lawmakers need more time to consider the proposal.

For WFCR and WNNZ, I’m Helen Barrington.