Perhaps a municipal electric utility would help

Perhaps a municipal electric utility would help

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To the Editor:

According to ISO-NE, New England’s power company umbrella group, July’s heat wave saw several days make the all time top 10 list for peak demand for electricity use in the region. Typically occurring during the hottest hours on the hottest days of the year in response to added air conditioning loads. Peak demand poses a unique challenge for utilities, and they employ a variety of strategies to meet it.

Simply increasing the amount of power generated and the size of overhead wires and their support structures is one approach, of course. But growing the grid isn’t the only way power companies mitigate peak demand. Looking around the country, we find, for example, utility sponsored solar water heating programs, and “Peak Alert” initiatives, where utilities call upon entire communities — not just certain commercial and industrial customers — to help alleviate critical spikes in electricity consumption. If NStar seriously considered these, or any other, alternatives before precipitating their current grid-growth debacle along the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, I’ve seen no sign of it.

Speaking of utility/community relations, in a JD Power 2012 customer satisfaction survey, NStar scored 83rd out of 95 utilities by both its residential and business customers. NStar is an investor owned utility (IOU), but publicly owned utilities exist in Massachusetts too, these being primarily, municipally owned utilities or Munis. Muni proponents claim, and the facts seem to bear them out, that Munis have performance records superior to IOUs overall and, in particular, when it comes to: the placement of utility wires underground, offering reasonable rates, utilizing renewable energy, and restoring power after storms.

Would a Muni be a good match for the Island? At this point it’s an academic question. Massachusetts law gives IOUs veto power over their formation and, perhaps not coincidentally, a new municipal utility hasn’t come into being in the Commonwealth in nearly a hundred years.

There is a bill, however, which has the support of the Massachusetts Municipal Association and Governor Deval Patrick, among others, to change that — H.2927, the “Muni-Choice Bill” — and I would recommend visiting www.massmunichoice.org, the website of the Massachusetts Alliance for Municipal Electric Choice, for more information on the bill itself and the topic of community owned electric utilities in general.

Thomas Sullivan

Vineyard Haven

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