Lawmaker, ex-PSNH president Long at odds over divestiture
Public Services of New Hampshire President Gary Long announces a new route through the north country for the Northern Pass project; Thursday, June 27, 2013. The proposed route for transmission lines bringing hydroelectric power from Quebec to New England will travel through a route to the east of the one originally planned and will have nearly eight miles of buried lines. ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff
Responding to dire predictions about the future of his company’s power supply, Gary Long, the former president of Public Service of New Hampshire, warned lawmakers yesterday that forcing the utility to shed its remaining generating plants would leave the state in a vulnerable situation.
“Divestiture is a one-way street,” he warned. “Once you do it, you can’t go back. You’re stuck.”
Long’s comments capped nearly six hours of discussion between various energy and ratepayer groups and members of an oversight committee considering the future of the utility’s power plants – a topic that has proven both complex and at times contentious, as evidenced yesterday.
Accusing legislators of having had a hand in creating PSNH’s high rates, Long outlined what he called a series of policy actions that would lower customer costs and allow the utility to continue providing power, especially during periods of high demand. Rather than divest, he said all PSNH customers should be required to pay for its hardware, including the $422 million mercury “scrubber” the utility was mandated in 2006 to install. And he suggested regulators allow the utility to charge competitors more for billing services it provides.
“Your policies are dictating our rate costs,” Long said. “If you think they’re too high, change it.”
But Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican on the committee, challenged Long’s position, contending that spreading costs is unfair and not in line with the principles of a competitive market.
Bradley said his concern is the costs to maintain PSNH’s plants have fallen behind their value to ratepayers.
“What worries me is not your prices today,” he told Long. “What worries me is what comes next, when the scrubber costs get incorporated. Where are these rates going to be come January?”
Long cautioned against making predictions, but said, “I think rates will go down in January.”
Whether competitors will be able to sustain their low rates through the winter is another question, he added.
But despite Long’s testimony, much of the conversation yesterday seemed less about whether PSNH should divest its plants, but rather what happens if and when it does. Who would bear the company’s stranded costs? Who protects financially strapped consumers if a state-regulated supplier no longer exists? And how long will natural gas remain cheap?
The committee meets again Aug. 28 to discuss possible legislative action.
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319,
firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)