Irked Islanders express concern over private power lines

Eversource representative attempts to quell community anger.

A large crowd of concerned Island residents meet with representatives from Eversource, moderated by state Rep. Dylan Fernandes.

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.


  1. Count me in on the class action lawsuit. We pay an outrageous price for power as it is. I have never seen a discount on my bill for having provided the private power line. So, 60% of the Island has been paying Eversource a fully loaded price without full service. Either they should take on the responsibility or rebate the Islanders for over charging them for the last 100 years – with interest, of course. The idea that it “costs” $1 million per mile is about as real as the Pentagon’s $400 hammers. The only way to deal with Eversource is in court.

  2. The general rule from the power company is if the pole or wire is on your property you own it. Much of this stuff is very old and predates present owners in many cases. It is the responsibility of property owners, present and prospective, to know and understand the equipment on their land. Wouldn’t be a bad idea to legislate disclosure on transfer, including easements and covenants affecting a parcel. Get to work, realtors.

  3. About two years ago on this day, or it might have been the 25th, an article came out in the Hartford Courant by Gregory B. Gladly regarding a MA Supreme Court ruling on Eversource stating that Eversource could not increase their rates and make their customers pay for infrastructure or infrastructure projects which in this case was a natural gas pipeline that would have been routed through three different states, MA being one. My point in bringing this up is to ask why the so called “private” power lines would not be covered by this court ruling after all these power lines everywhere else (except Dukes county) in MA are considered as Eversource infrastructure and maintained by them. I noticed after a quick look at the historical financial chart of Eversource that their many millions of shareholders are getting decent dividends….but does it have to be off the backs of electric ratepayers that are paying high rates and being told they have to pay for their own infrastructure?? We ratepayers are subsidizing the paying of dividends and probably exorbitant executive salaries/perks, etc. Time for a change…

  4. What’s the big deal?

    If you buy property near existing public services (on a public road), and if you place your house a short distance from them, power lines are free.

    If you build a house on many acres of land, miles from a public road, you pay for your own power.

    If you paid half a million dollars for a house without checking power, well, or home inspection… that’s on you.

    • Ever suspect home inspections are token at best? Even if they assume “everyone knows” about private lines, it should be in their report.

      • Everybody knows “home inspections” are a joke. They operate on a wink and a nod.
        This needs legislation.

    • a half million dollars will get you a tiny house on a tiny lot in ob– no problem with power— if you buy a 4 million dollar house on chappy you might have a problem — get over it and go solar

  5. I wish there was a web site to check ownership of your power line. I have a plastic box over mine that gets run over everytime I fill my propane tanks. Is this something I should worry about?

  6. I might be missing something here– and I would appreciate it if the so called conservatives who hate solar power can straighten me out— but can’t these people who are on the end of the line just put solar panels on their roof ?

    • You should know that absent government subsidy solar panels are not a viable residential investment, at least at present electric rates.

      • hanley– I actually don’t know that– especially if you are throwing in a million dollars a mile for the line. Also, you should be a fan of subsidies for solar power– most of the people who can afford them are “well off” this is a handout to wealthy people. how can you be against that ?

        • You make an unwarranted assumption that I am “well off”. Not the case. The recovery period for solar is 30 years, the life of the panels. It doesn’t work without the subsidies. That does not mean I am against solar power. Economic viability is not the only worthwhile consideration.

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