Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
According to ISO-NE, New England’s power company umbrella group, last July’s heat wave saw several days make the region’s all-time top 10 list for peak demand for electricity. Typically occurring during the hottest hours on the hottest days of the year in response to added air conditioning loads, peak demand poses a unique challenge for utilities and they employ a variety of strategies to meet it.
Simply increasing the amount of power generated and the size of overhead wires and their support structures is one approach, of course. But growing the grid isn’t the only way power companies can mitigate peak demand. Looking around the country, we find, for example, utility sponsored solar water heating programs, and peak alert initiatives, where utilities call upon entire communities — not just certain commercial and industrial customers — to help alleviate critical spikes in electricity consumption. If NStar seriously considered these, or any other, viable alternatives before precipitating their ongoing, grid-growth debacle along the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, they’ve made no mention of it.
Speaking of utility/community relations, in a JD Power’s 2012 customer satisfaction survey, NStar scored 83rd out of 95 utilities by both its residential and business customers. NStar is an investor owned utility, but publicly owned utilities exist in Massachusetts too — these being primarily, municipally owned utilities, or Munis. Muni proponents claim, and the facts seem to bear them out, that Munis have performance records superior to investor owned utilities overall, and in particular when it comes to the placement of utility wires underground, offering reasonable rates, utilizing renewable energy and restoring power after storms.
Would a Muni be a good match for the Island? At this point it’s an academic question. Massachusetts law gives investor owner utilities veto power over their formation, and perhaps not coincidentally, a new municipal utility hasn’t come into being in the commonwealth in nearly 100 years.
There is a bill, however, which has the support of the Massachusetts Municipal Association and Governor Patrick, among others, to change that — H.2927, the Muni-Choice Bill. I would recommend visiting massmunichoice.org, the website of the Massachusetts Alliance for Municipal Electric Choice for more information on the bill itself and the topic of community owned electric utilities in general.
Thomas Sullivan, Vineyard Haven