About a year ago, Bruce Mohl published a review of the state's latest renewable-power subsidy, called "net metering," whereby cities and towns turn into goniffs, as we say in Yiddish, while passing themselves off as public-spirited citizens. If most of us tried the same levels of pranks, we would probably land in jail. [ The meter is running, Commonwealth, January, 2011, at http://www.commonwealthmagazine.org/News-and-Features/Features/2011/Winter/The-meter-is-running.aspx ]

These stunts are products of the Green Communities Act (St. 2008, C. 169), much abetted by some little-known provisions of a 2010 law (St. 2010, C. 359, Ss. 25-30). As ably explained by Mr. Mohl, in the case of wind and solar projects in Kingston completed last year, "The town will pay 11 cents a kilowatt hour for the solar power and 11.5 cents for the wind power," then it will sell whatever it does not use "to NStar at the municipal net-metered rate of 15 cents."

That's a very neat deal, indeed--known in gambling as "hitting a middle" and in the criminal laws as "arbitrage." In 2010, the Senate "leadership" (almost certainly meaning Ms. Murray) quietly slipped into a supplemental appropriation bill changes in the general laws to carve out a 2-percent slice of electricity distributed in the state, exclusively available to government offices for this form of legalized arbitrage.

Mr. Mohl strains to absolve the state legislature, saying that "Kingston...is exploiting a state subsidy program in a way that was never intended." However, there is strong evidence that members of the legislature knew exactly what they were doing. Mr. Mohl quotes State Rep. Calter (12th Plymouth District), saying, "I take my marching orders from [Kingston selectmen]." Apparently they ordered him to allow qualifying wind and solar facilities to be sited on privately owned land, as Kingston is doing.

Without the special deals, Nstar would still be buying wind power, but it would be paying wholesale prices plus transportation charges, recently reported at 9 to 11 cents per kWh. The victims of the legislative deal-making are ordinary utility customers, who will wind up paying higher electricity rates to subsidize the stunts promoted by the Great and General Court.