A crowd of over 40 irritated Islanders met with Eversource representatives at the Edgartown library Friday to express their concerns regarding private power lines.
For many, this issue was only uncovered after underground power lines were dug up because they were either damaged or in need of replacing. Island residents were shocked to find that on top of the monthly electric bill they pay to Eversource, another, much heftier bill might be necessary if power lines are damaged or destroyed.
A central point of frustration for Island residents was that many of them were left in the dark on this issue for so long. Sue Wax of Chappaquiddick said she never received mention that her lines were private and repairs would have to be paid for out-of-pocket.
“Whenever I come back and turn the lights on, I say, ‘Thank God.’ There needs to be a different plan before there is a major crisis,” Wax said.
Wax said she is worried that there is no easy way to tell if a power line or pole is designated private or public. “I never recall seeing anything from any electrical company. We were a little shocked,” Wax said.
Chappy resident Dennis Goldin said in 20 years of living here, he has never seen documentation about whether he is on a private or public line. He suggested making it mandatory for landlords and realtors to disclose whether the house is on a privately owned line and would have to pay for repair costs.
Goldin said it costs $1 million to repair 1 mile of power line. “That’s too much money,” he said. He also said about 60 percent of the power lines on Martha’s Vineyard are private. He reiterated his intentions to seek litigation against Eversource in the form of a class action. At the end of the meeting, he asked anyone who wanted to join him in the lawsuit to gather round.
State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, who organized and moderated the meeting, said Eversource is in the process of sending letters to property owners notifying them if their line is private.
Henry Udow of Katama said he thinks there should be a designated person or persons that are easily accessible on Martha’s Vineyard who can answer questions regarding power-line ownership. “There is a very serious question whether Eversource has the responsibility of repairing these lines,” Udow said.
Udow wasn’t the only Island resident at the meeting that believed emails and phone calls were not satisfactory means of communication between Eversource and its customers.
Woody Filley said there should be a single entity that provides the Island with information about power ownership.
Jonathan Chatinover said this is how it should work: “If we have a house, you provide the power.”
Unfortunately for some Islanders, Dukes County register of deeds Paulo DeOliveira said the process of licensing and administering electrical contracts is not as simple as it might seem.
Fernandes said it isn’t fair for Eversource to charge every customer the same amount when some people have to pay to maintain the lines, while others have it covered by Eversource.
Another issue raised at the meeting was that Eversource has offered to assume ownership of private lines so long as they meet the utilities’ standards.
According to Mark Reed of Eversource, the company agrees to take ownership of a private line only after conducting a thorough inspection to make sure it meets company standards.
The issue for many Island folks is that cost to upgrade these lines can be very high.
West Tisbury resident Sue Hruby said many people who live on the Island earn a modest income, and don’t have the opulence to afford these major renovations to power lines.
She referenced the fact that many senior citizens live on the Island off retirement funding. “It’s not right that senior citizens are cold and alone in their homes with no power,” Hruby said.
She suggested a low- or no-interest loan program or some type of reasonable long-term monetary solution.
Joy Robinson Lynch, West Tisbury, said the government should be responsible for overseeing Eversource (calling it a sole-source monopoly) and making sure it is fair to its customers. Fernandes explained that there is no law allowing the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) to force Eversource to take control of the lines. He told the crowd he will do everything in his power to address the situation within the Massachusetts legislature.
Reed told the crowd he will report back to Eversource with each complaint from the community. He admitted that Eversource needs to improve communications with customers and be more transparent when it comes to private versus public ownership of power lines.