On April 29th, the Town Meeting in Acushnet, Mass. voted unanimously to join a similar grouping with other towns in Southeastern Massachusetts. Further town meeting votes in that region are scheduled for May.
Barnstable Town Councillor Audrey Loughnane said the council voted unanimously to get bids on electricity in collaboration with neighboring towns because it "will probably give us the best price possible. When we got into [the multi-town] Semass [waste-to-energy contract] early, we got the best possible price."
Electricity deregulation is scheduled to begin January 1, 1998. "The community electricity franchise is something every town and every city in the state should consider carefully," says Self-Reliance Executive Director Matthew C. Patrick, who is also a Falmouth selectman. "Towns can group together many small customers to make one very large customer of electricity," he says. "That is potentially the key to lower electricity rates, and more reliable in many ways than the temporary 10% rate discount that Governor Weld, Scott Harshbarger, and some legislators have proposed" under deregulation.
In the southeastern corner of the state, the Acushnet town meeting vote on April 29 was the first of seven such municipal initiatives in Greater New Bedford. The towns of Fairhaven, Freetown, Rochester, Marion, Mattapoisett, and Westport will vote on the measure in May. Acushnet Power Steering Committee member Irwin Marks cites the case of a large insurance company in Boston, "who went out and made a new deal with Southern Energy so that they will get about an 18% reduction in their bill. Now that company consumes electricity equivalent to a town of about 60,000. If these seven communities stay together, we will have over 60,000 residents. We have made a start at getting New Bedford interested, so that would be 160,000. But if we allow ourselves just to be treated as individual householders we will start out getting only a 10% reduction, which will rapidily disappear."
Ted Alexiades, a selectman in Kingston, Mass. and chair of that town's Task Force on Electricity Deregulation, said that his town is having "exploratory" meetings this spring with the towns of Duxbury, Pembroke, Marshfield, Halifax and Carver to discuss a similar joint venture. "As elected leaders, I think we owe it to the residents in our community to be prepared to deal with the changing [utility] environment to the benefit of the community. At a time when we're building fire stations, school systems, and the like, which is impacting expenses upwards, wouldn't it be nice if we could reduce residents' out of pocket expenses each month, by using the power of a large group to lower electricity rates? After all, the whole purpose of forming municipalities, 300 years ago, was to save costs as individual families."
Copyright (c) 1997 by the American Local Power Project.