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Politicians back municipal power

Thursday, March 18, 2010


BOSTON —  Two groups seeking changes in state law to allow creation of more municipal power companies today presented key legislators with a petition backing the proposal, signed by 2,275 people, including the governor.

The groups, Get-Rid-Of-Unitil and the Massachusetts Alliance for Municipal Electric Choice, said most of the signatures came from Lunenburg, Fitchburg, Townsend and Ashby.

Those towns are served by the New Hampshire-based Unitil that was fined and widely criticized for a slow response to widespread power outages caused by an ice storm in December 2008.

The groups said the legislation is needed to update state laws that now contain outdated language giving large investor-owned utilities permanent monopolies that make it impossible to form new municipal power companies.

There are 41 municipal power companies in the state, including Princeton, Holden, Hudson and Ashburnham.

The group maintained that municipal power companies charge less and cited last year’s rates from Unitil, NStar and National Grid that they said were 30 percent higher than the average municipal power rates.

The groups cited comments from signers of the petition, including Gov. Deval Patrick, who wrote that the legislation is “a step in the right direction and will allow residents greater local control and input into utility investment policies and decisions, services and service levels.”

Others that signed included comments such as “Stop the state-sponsored monopoly” and “We the people have a right to choose (our) electric company.”

The governor said he looked forward to reviewing the legislation if it reaches his desk, but came short of promising to sign it.

Other candidates for governor who signed the petition were Republican Christy P. Mihos, independent Timothy P. Cahill, Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Democrat Grace Ross.

Legislation to make the changes was dealt a setback earlier this week when the Legislature’s joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy refused to back it for passage in advance of a March 17 deadline for committee action. Rather than kill the legislation for this two-year session, however, the committee voted to extend the deadline for consideration until July 14.

State Reps. Jennifer E. Benson, D-Lunenburg, and Stephen L. DiNatale, D-Fitchburg, went with the groups’ representatives to deliver the petition at the committee office at the Statehouse. Ms. Benson said the high cost of electricity from Unitil is hurting local employers by driving up costs.