WG+E has been making Westfield warm and bright for 122 years. Serving nearly 20,000 customers, this municipal utility buys power on the wholesale market, then delivers it - at roughly 7% below Massachusetts’s average price. In short, said Tom Flaherty, WG+E general manager, “We provide local service at a lower cost, and all of our profits each year are fully reinvested in the community.”
Flaherty is a West Springfield native who settled on this bank of the Westfield River more than 20 years ago. For 17 years of that time, he served as an elected commissioner to the Municipal Light Board. He was named WG+E General Manager last March.
Flaherty’s background is in the vast world of energy commodities, but his vision is entirely local. Whether it’s providing reliable utilities, sponsoring civic groups, bringing on the Starfires, or supporting exhibits at the Jasper Rand Art Museum, “We’re committed to being an integral part of the fabric of the Westfield community,” Flaherty said.
Furthermore, Flaherty said, “Nearly 100% of our incredible, talented staff live within 30 minutes of Westfield, and more than 50% live in Westfield itself. We are Westfield. We want to support our community the best that we can by providing safe, reliable service.”
It’s easy to take utilities for granted when all goes well. However, “When the power goes out, we’re all immediately inconvenienced,” Flaherty said. To keep that inconvenience to a minimum, “Westfield Gas and Electric has local crews, a local operations and call center, and local attention to tree trimming.”
When a storm hits or a pole goes down, help from people who live or work in Westfield is already here.
On occasions when nature really wallops us (remember that tornado and October snowstorm?), WG+E has relationships with the Western Mass Public Utility Council, the Municipal Electric Association of Massachusetts, the Northeast Power Association, and the American Public Power Association. Working with these entities, out-of-state and mutual-aid resources are readily within reach.
Of course, nothing makes gas and electricity quite so cozy as local broadband added to the package.
Since 2013, WG+E has invested approximately $22 million in delivering municipal broadband through Whip City Fiber. “It’s premium, reliable, local service with responsive support,” Flaherty said, describing his personal switch to municipal internet as “like a life transition.” Providing gigabit service to homes and businesses, Whip City Fiber is fast. It’s $69.95 for residential service, and there’s no contract. Already, 5,500 customers in Westfield have signed up.
“Whip City Fiber is doing far better than we originally anticipated,” Flaherty said, “and we’ve been able to help another 20 communities in the nearby hill towns that had no internet service other than dial up.”
Reaching beyond city limits has powered WG+E’s goal of bringing fiber to all of Westfield by 2025. These neighboring towns benefit by giving their residents awesome internet at a sensible price. Meanwhile, the fees they pay fund fiber expansion here in Westfield. The project, Flaherty said, is paying for itself.
That’s good news, since change in the power industry is coming at the speed of a rapidly warming planet. Flaherty noted that legislation aimed at mitigating the worst effects of climate change dictate the company’s carbon emissions be halved by 2030 and eliminated by 2050. WG+E’s eye is on a future of renewable energies such as solar and wind, with some important projects on the near horizon.
No matter what the next era brings, Flaherty said, “As we continue to grow, we’re going to continue building the local economy by hiring local people for local jobs. We’re going to continue investing in Westfield.”