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Summary

The law changes the state's electric utility industry. Starting in March 1998, instead of buying power from the utility that owns the power lines, customers may choose to buy power from separate generating companies competing with each other to sell power to be delivered by the existing utility. Customers not choosing a new competing generating company will be provided power by their existing utility under a transition rate for 7 years, starting from a rate 10% less than 1997 rates. By September 1999, rates for such customers must be further reduced from 1997 rates (adjusted for inflation) by 5%. Subject to restrictions in the law, rates paid by such customers may be adjusted up or down if approved by the new state Department of Telecommunications and Energy (DTE).

The law lets a utility recover, from customers, previously incurred costs related to generating plants and contracts that have become uneconomical under competition. Utilities must first reduce such "transition costs" in all reasonable ways, which may include selling non-nuclear generating plants. DTE must approve such sales and the utility's way of financing transition costs, and DTE may limit which costs may be charged to customers. Public agencies may arrange the sale of special bonds to help a utility finance transition costs to provide savings to customers.

Utilities claiming they cannot offer the required rate reductions must work with DTE to find all possible ways to do so. State tax revenues related to sales of power plants may be used, if found necessary by DTE and subject to legislative appropriation, to ensure that utilities provide the 15% rate reduction. Utilities must maintain discounts for low-income customers.

DTE must issue consumer protection and related regulations related to energy sales, and the law lets the state Attorney General enforce consumer protection laws and regulations against energy companies. To maintain reliability, DTE must set performance-based rates and service quality standards for electric and gas utilities. Utilities failing to meet the standards may be fined up to 2% of their annual revenues.

Such utilities will not be allowed to cut staff levels unless either the relevant unions agree or DTE finds that the cuts will not lead to sub-standard service. Utility employees who are laid off due to the law will, if eligible for unemployment benefits, also be eligible for reemployment assistance benefits.

If a generating plant loses value due to the law, the responsible company must pay the affected city or town until 2009 to offset lost property tax revenue. Cities and towns may set up power purchasing cooperatives for local customers. Businesses and other organizations may also set up cooperatives. A municipal lighting plant that chooses to sell power outside its own service area must compete with other generating companies within its service area.

The law requires electric utilities to continue energy efficiency and demand management programs until 2003 and directs DTE to ensure that such programs are cost effective. The law imposes a charge on electricity consumers to promote renewable energy projects and to help cities and towns pay to add pollution control equipment to existing trash-to-energy plants. By 2003, power suppliers must provide an annually increasing percentage of power from new renewable sources, and fossil-fuel power plants must start to meet efficiency standards limiting pollution. The law ends the requirement that the state find a need for a proposed power plant but preserves environmental reviews.

The law changes the state Department of Public Utilities to the new DTE, controlled by a 5-member commission with expertise on specified issues. The law gives the state Division of Energy Resources new duties related to energy restructuring, such as educating consumers and helping cities and towns.

A YES VOTE would continue the new law changing the electric utility industry.

A NO VOTE would undo these changes in the electric industry.

1998 Nov 3 :: State of Massachusetts :: Question 4 :: ReferendumDo you approve of law summarized below, which was approved by the House of Representatives on November 19, 1997 by a vote of 124 to 30, approved by the Senate on November 19, 1997 by a vote of 32 to 6?

View as: # | %  
Ward
Yes
No
Blank Votes Total Votes Cast Total Ballots Cast
Totals
 
12,455
6,146
1,575
18,601
20,176
Precinct 1
 
434
138
74
572
646
Precinct 2
 
506
216
77
722
799
Precinct 3
 
468
156
69
624
693
Precinct 1
 
430
216
55
646
701
Precinct 2
 
583
258
82
841
923
Precinct 3
 
540
301
58
841
899
Precinct 1
 
645
329
72
974
1,046
Precinct 2
 
571
300
72
871
943
Precinct 3
 
661
353
98
1,014
1,112
Precinct 1
 
551
205
94
756
850
Precinct 2
 
583
240
65
823
888
Precinct 3
 
597
277
64
874
938
Precinct 1
 
619
291
55
910
965
Precinct 2
 
629
306
74
935
1,009
Precinct 3
 
598
360
76
958
1,034
Precinct 1
 
687
491
83
1,178
1,261
Precinct 2
 
675
438
104
1,113
1,217
Precinct 3
 
524
327
61
851
912
Precinct 1
 
715
349
92
1,064
1,156
Precinct 2
 
668
294
82
962
1,044
Precinct 3
 
771
301
68
1,072
1,140
Totals
 
12,455
6,146
1,575
18,601
20,176