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My Turn: Replace Eversource with a true cooperative electric utility



For the Monitor
Saturday, December 03, 2016

The Northern Pass Forward N.H. Plan presented us with an Eversource-serving transmission project greased with an incoherent economic development plan.

In 2014, the New Hampshire State Energy Strategy called for advanced, self-contained “micro-grids” in combination with onsite generation to free us from the costs, energy outages and environmental disruption associated with older, massive utility undertakings. These modern scalable projects are more resilient, flexible and efficient and create jobs that are difficult to outsource. Moreover, the money spent on the projects will circulate within New Hampshire, enhancing our state’s economy.

Last month, instead of pursuing its strategy to create cost-effective diversity in our electricity market, the state granted Northern Pass Transmission, LLC, public utility status. I attended the July hearing for it. It’s the company’s financial hedge against the project’s significant risks.

The new status animates the specter of NPT’s ascending the largest, longest transmission project in state history to a salient environmental outrage.

Imagine the state sacrificing the pristine Great North Woods and its other scenic beauty to Northern Pass. If this doesn’t bother you, then consider the diminished economic value of our state’s “brand.” But who is accounting for that?

In perfect irony, the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission ordered NPT’s public utility status, “for the public good.” The grant makes the project’s administrative drill of permits, licenses, approvals and certifications seem a sure bet for the company’s capture. After that, NPT can build and operate this “private, participant funded” and obsolete transmission project with all the rights of a public utility.

This status imposes risks of costs on ratepayers that Northern Pass should bear alone. It also exposes the company’s Forward N.H. Plan promise that “New Hampshire residents will not pay any of the cost of building or operating the Northern Pass project” as a bald-faced lie. With NPT’s new status there’s an excellent chance that N.H. ratepayers will assume at least some of the AC line costs from Franklin to Deerfield, and quite possibly the more onerous risk of financial burden for the DC line.

As disturbing, the order also entails an unprecedented, venal $20 million benefit from NPT’s Forward N.H. Fund for the PUC’s exclusive, discretionary dispensing. Since the PUC was not subject to the fund grant application rules or its advisory board review, this “benefit” is little more than the state’s payoff for granting Northern Pass Transmission, LLC, public utility status – doled from the company’s extralegal slush fund.

Eversource prizes PUC entitlement and that’s why its Northern Pass officials hired Thomas Getz of McLane Middleton Professional Association to represent them. He served as chairman of the PUC from 2001 through 2011. When cozy relationships between regulators and the regulated turn thick as thieves, private interests masquerade as the public interest with the switch of a hat.

To that end, the Site Evaluation Committee permitted only persons living in the towns along the project’s line to file interventions in the case. This thwarted most all of the deep and wide opposing consensus. It’s the-state-knows-best public interest gag for the NIMBY rabble.

Likewise, at the DOE and SEC citizen information sessions, instead of honoring the public interest the company hired armed police to keep us in line. Yet it was the regulators’ favor for NPT’s interests that sent the message. Eversource Energy interests will define the limits of the public interest in New Hampshire.

Given the recent revelation of the New England region’s decade-long transmission rates scandal and Eversource’s role in it, it’s time to take steps to disenfranchise this company from its incumbent utility status in our state. We have more than sufficient cause.

With a cooperative electric utility in its place, the public interest, the state’s energy strategy and ratepayers can begin to get the deference they’re owed.

(Terry Cronin lives in Hopkinton.)