Bill would protect homeowners with private power lines

Fernandes files legislation after issue crops up on Martha’s Vineyard.

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Chappaquiddick resident Dennis Goldin points to an Eversource transformer near his home. Goldin helped shine the light on private power lines.

State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, has introduced a bill that would provide legal safeguards for homeowners with private electric lines.

Chappy resident Dennis Goldin, former president of the Rogers Road Power Line Association, brought the challenges private electric line owners face to the attention of Fernandes by exposing the difficulties he endured negotiating with Eversource. On behalf of his association, a private holding entity for his neighborhood’s subterranean electric line, Goldin asked Eversource to take ownership of his neighborhood’s line. Eversource refused.

Goldin, who argued he and his neighbors paid Eversource for maintenance of their private line as a portion of their monthly bills, yet could not even get Eversource to execute repairs on it, went on to discover many Islanders had encountered similar problems. He continued to press Eversource, and ultimately got the utility giant to take ownership of the line and therefore absolved his neighborhood of the responsibility of maintaining it.

“When power lines break, we have the reasonable expectation that the utility company will fix them,” Fernandes said in a release. “However, many homeowners in our district and across Massachusetts were never told that their lines and poles are private, and that when they break, they will be stuck with a bill often in the tens of thousands of dollars. The lack of consumer protection for homeowners is unacceptable, and we have proposed a common-sense solution to address it.”

Through his bill Fernandes wants to ensure real estate agents disclose whether or not a home has private electric lines, and to compel utility companies to notify ratepayers if poles or lines on their property are privately owned. It would also provide a compensation mechanism for upkeep of private poles and lines. The bill would furthermore provide a method, via the Department of Public Utilities, for private homeowners to transfer ownership of private lines to the utility that generates the electricity distributed through those lines.

“Most people are still unaware that they may actually own their own electric lines,” Goldin said. “An underground repair might cost $5,000 to $10,000, and a total replacement may cost $1 million a mile, per Eversource. The cost of this is beyond what most homeowners can afford. The legislation Dylan Fernandes presented addresses the need to have realtors and Eversource disclose who owns the lines. In addition, if Eversource is not going to take over the lines, they should be paying for the use of those lines.”