Eversource wants ratepayers to pay for gas pipeline deal, but wants details kept secret

Monitor staff
Saturday, March 12, 2016
New Hampshire’s consumer advocate is challenging Eversource Energy’s request to keep confidential several documents that show why the state’s largest utility is proposing to buy natural gas from its own pipeline project.

“My intention is to oppose the proposal and the project, unless and until Eversource can convince me this is in the interest of consumers,” said consumer advocate Donald Kreis.

Eversource Energy is proposing a plan it says will lower regional electric rates over the long run by charging ratepayers to help expand a natural gas pipeline in New England.

The electric utility, formerly Public Service of New Hampshire, filed a request with the Public Utilities Commission recently to enter into a 20-year-contract to buy natural gas from the proposed pipeline expansion project known as Access Northeast, which Eversource and two other companies plan to construct in New England.

New Hampshire customers would pay roughly $50 million a year under the deal, but Eversource estimates the annual electric savings would run from $140 to $270 million annually.

Eversource says it selected Access Northeast from seven alternative suppliers through a competitive bidding process.

The company is asking the PUC to keep details of the bids, prices and contract terms confidential, claiming a disclosure of the “sensitive information” could harm the utility’s business position and the contents are of “minimal” public interest.

The filings Eversource submitted to the PUC have several sections related to prices and cost structure blacked out.

Consumer advocate Donald Kreis says the information should be made public, and filed a rebuttal with the PUC.

The redacted documents are key to evaluating whether the project will actually save customers money, and the public’s interest in that is “extremely high,” said Kreis, who has reviewed the documents in full.

“Their case rests on this claim that this is going to save customers a lot of money in the long run,” he said. “Well that’s really important stuff, and really turns on all the numbers they have redacted from their filing.”

At this point, Kreis opposes the proposed contract saying it transfers risk from Eversource’s investors to its customers.

It’s the first time an electric utility has sought to purchase pipeline capacity and charge ratepayers for the cost.

Eversource is proposing to buy the natural gas and sell it to independent power producers. It says getting more supply into New England during the winter will drive down electric rates throughout the region.

Nearly half of New England’s electricity is now generated by gas-fired power plants. During the coldest days of winter most of the region’s natural gas supply has been used to heat homes, limiting the amount of fuel available to power plants.

If Access Northeast gets all required government approval and financing, the project could be up and running as early as November 2018.

Financing, however, is largely contingent on its 20-year contract proposal before the New Hampshire PUC. The utility filed a similar contract proposal in Massachusetts recently.

The debate here is likely to draw lots of scrutiny. Opponents of pipeline expansion say the region should focus instead on reducing electricity usage through energy efficiency efforts and invest more in local renewable energy projects. Others say the project shouldn’t be financed on the backs of ratepayers.

The PUC has yet to weigh in on whether the redacted information will become public.

“This is a major development in the history of electricity in New Hampshire, nothing quite like this has ever been proposed like this before,” Kreis said. “The public’s interest in that is extremely high.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307, amorris@
cmonitor.com or on Twitter 

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