Fitchburg Businesses, Residents Struggling Due to High Unitil Bills

Hundreds of business owners and residents say they are crippled by the bills

Businesses in one central Massachusetts community say they are struggling due to extremely high electric bills.

Turning the lights on in Beemers Pub & Grill in downtown Fitchburg could mean lights off for the business.

"It's more than my mortgage and taxes combined. I shouldn’t have to pay that kind of money to operate a business,” said owner Pete Cote.

Cote showed NBC10 Boston dozens of monthly bills with a $4,000 balance or higher.

"I fell over. I couldn't believe it. I almost fainted," he said. "How am I gonna pay that?"

Cote said he's not sure how much longer he can keep the doors open and he's not alone in his concern over Unitil bills.

Hundreds of business owners and residents in Fitchburg are sharing the same concerns, posting on Facebook saying they are crippled by the bills. Some say it could be a huge downside to attract more businesses to fill empty store fronts.

"How can I look at anyone else and say Fitchburg is great come to Fitchburg," said Cote.

As much as some want to point the finger at Fitchburg, they are stuck with the rates.

Mayor Stephen DiNatale explained that Unitil owns the infrastructure for heating and electric in Fitchburg, so unless the city dishes out millions to buy it back in a dragged out process that costs the tax payers, they have to work with the company.

"We have to work with what we can change," said DiNatale.

The Mayor admitted they are concerned about the rates and just introduced aggregation as an option at a city council meeting. The aggregation means people can shop around for lower rates rather than just using Unitil's rates.

Unitil is only one of four investor owned companies left in the Commonwealth with a small footprint of only about a handful of cities in Western Massachusetts. Like other utility companies they are regulated and their rates are decided by demand.

"In the state of Massachusetts, utilities are not allowed to own power plants. What we are required to do by state regulations is we go to the power generators and we say to them what is going to be the market rate for electricity over the next 6 month period? And whatever rate we get that becomes part of the customer’s bill," said Alec O'Meara of Unitil.

There's no one person or company to point the finger at for these exceptionally high rates, still, utility bills remain and the obstacle is turning people like Cote away.

"I don't recommend anyone opening a business in Fitchburg. Go to Leominster, or Worcester, or wherever. Just don't come here," said Cote.

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