Fernandes refiles private utility line bill

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State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, has refiled legislation that would protect homeowners from surprise costs associated with private utility line upgrades and repairs. 

“This bill gives the Department of Public Utilities or the Attorney General the power to compel Eversource to take over private utility lines, mandating that utilities indicate on their bill whether the homeowner is using a private line or pole, and requires Department of Public Utilities in consultation with the Attorney General come up with a mechanism for the utility to pay customers for their private line in proportion to the line length,” a release states. 

Chappaquiddick resident Dennis Goldin had been a relentless advocate on private utility line issues. In 2018, The Times first reported on difficulties Goldin and his neighbors were having in getting Eversource to take ownership of a private line that served their neighborhood. Goldin eventually got Eversource to capitulate. Goldin said private lines can be expensive to fix — $1 million per mile, he estimated. His stance has long been that the utility company and not the homeowner should be maintaining these lines, and when they break, the homeowner shouldn’t be saddled with a costly repair bill, he said. “It’s a huge problem on Martha’s Vineyard that many people are generally unaware of,” Goldin said. 

Goldin also noted utility companies have enjoyed free use of these lines, but have not compensated homeowners for that use. Even if it’s pennies a year, he said, he believes homeowners should be compensated prior to the utility company taking ownership of a line.

Since The Times 2018 articles, Goldin said, people have reached out to him from across the Island and across the state to learn more about the issue. 

Eversource expressed reservations about potentially being required to acquire private utility lines. 

“It would be unfair for our customers to have to subsidize the cost we would incur if we were made to take over privately owned power lines,” Eversource spokesman Reid Lamberty wrote in an email. “These lines were installed many years ago, and many of them are in difficult-to-reach areas, making it inaccessible for trucks and our crews, posing a safety issue. They are privately owned lines, and responsibility for maintenance lies with the property owner. Many homeowners on Martha’s Vineyard are unaware that they own the power lines on their property. Customers can call or email us to find out if a line on their property is private. Additionally, there is a process in place that allows us to take over ownership of a private line. If the owner of a private pole line is interested in us assuming ownership of it, we first will have to inspect it to be sure it meets our construction standards. If it doesn’t, the owner of the line is responsible for upgrading it before we will agree to assume ownership.”

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