Powerful decision for Chappy homeowners

0
Chappaquiddick resident Dennis Goldin points to an Eversource transformer near his home. — Gabrielle Mannino

Updated Dec. 4

Northeast utility giant Eversource has agreed to take ownership of a private electrical distribution line previously owned and maintained by a group of 14 Chappaquiddick homeowners.

After a year’s worth of negotiating by Dennis Goldin, president of the Rogers Road Power Line Association, and lobbying by state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, Eversource has changed its stance on the private line. Goldin told The Times he thinks the looming risk of a class action lawsuit over private distribution lines may have also caused Eversource to rethink its position.

As The Times reported in May, many Islanders are unaware they own the subterranean or aerial electric lines that service their homes. This appears to be especially true for owners in older subdivisions. A meeting set up in August by Fernandes brought disgruntled homeowners and Eversource brass together for discussion on the private electrical lines. The primary issues the homeowners expressed were the difficulty in identifying whether a line is owned by the utility or privately owned, the high cost of homeowner repair and upgrade on private lines, and the inequitable position homeowners felt they were in by, in their viewpoint, paying Eversource a maintenance fee for private lines the utility says it isn’t obligated to upkeep.

Eversource executive Mark Reed said at the August meeting that the utility must scrutinize private electrical infrastructure prior to assuming control of it to ensure it meets Eversource standards.

Goldin said in past discussions with Eversource, he was told the distribution line owned by the Rogers Road Power Line Association, one installed at a cost of roughly $200,000, wasn’t up to snuff because it wasn’t a double-loop system per Eversource standards. A double loop system would have doubled the cost, Goldin said, and the association wasn’t willing to shell out so much.

Warren Boutin, Eversource’s director of electrical support and distributed generation, did not mention the necessity of a double-loop system in his Nov. 20 letter to the association indicating “Eversource will assume ownership.” Boutin’s letter also did not mention a 15.2 percent fee previously mentioned by Eversource spokesman Michael Durand as integral to the handoff of a distribution line.

“[W]e apply a carrying charge, which is currently 15.2 percent, to the depreciated value of the infrastructure we’re taking over,” Durand wrote in an email in May.

“There’s no invoice, and we would never pay for that,” Goldin said.

“Eversource has reviewed the equipment in question,” Boutin wrote, “and as such, Eversource will assume ownership. Eversource will own and maintain this equipment as of November 1st, 2018.”

“We didn’t do anything further,” Goldin said of the distribution line installed two years ago.

In response to an inquiry about the “carrying charge” and double-loop system, Durand wrote that Eversource doesn’t have a one size fits all approach to taking over private lines.

We evaluate every individual situation based on its own set of circumstances,” he wrote. “In this case, the new line was already installed before our customer contacted us about taking it over. Though having a loop system would have potentially benefitted them in the event of future power outages, not having one will not adversely affect any other customers. We treat information related to the financial terms of any agreements with our customers as confidential.”

Goldin said he spoke to Reed and Eversource engineer Janet Costa once a week for the past three months. Two weeks before he received the letter from Boutin, he heard from Reed the transfer was all set, he said.

“This is a consumer protection issue that needs to be addressed, and we are thrilled to see some movement on this,” Fernandes wrote in an email. “To see that some homeowners on Martha’s Vineyard were able to turn over their lines to Eversource, saving them tens of thousands of dollars, is a great stepping stone, but there is more work to be done. Eversource needs to come up with a solution for all other homeowners who have private utility lines, as many more families are affected. Our office is in the process of drafting legislation to resolve this Islandwide and statewide issue.”

Goldin said he fears many people on the Vineyard are unaware they are the owners of private distribution lines. He encouraged Vineyard homeowners to figure out who owns the lines that service their homes. He also encourages those who find they do have private electric lines to contact Eversource and try to pass the burden of those lines on to the utility.

Updated with comments from Eversource. – Ed.