February 23, 2012
Connecticut, Massachusetts

Concern about Cape Wind, land preservation voiced at hearing on planned utilities merger

By JANICE PODSADA, The Hartford Courant, www.courant.com 22 February 2012

State utility regulators heard from just two speakers Wednesday night at a public hearing on the proposed merger of Northeast Utilities and NSTAR, a Boston-based utility.

Elizabeth Gilson, representing the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, and Jim McAlister, of New Fairfield, were the only members of the public to attend the hearing held at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. The 6:30 p.m. hearing, scheduled to end at 10 p.m., adjourned at 7:10.

In opening remarks, Kevin DelGobbo, director of the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, reiterated that NU must demonstrate that the merger is in the public interest and that regulators would be examining the merged company’s ability to provide “safe, reliable and adequate service.” The merger would create the largest utility in the Northeast, a $17.5 billion company serving 3.5 million customers.

Gilson, a New Haven attorney, expressed concern over a deal recently cut by Massachusetts regulators who received a long-term pledge from NU and NSTAR to purchase power from the proposed massive offshore wind power development, Cape Wind.

Gilson said the companies’ pledge to procure electricity from the Cape Wind project at a cost of nearly 19 cents per kilowatt hour was entered into without an open and competitive bidding process, which could raise rates for Connecticut customers.

The Nantucket Sound alliance opposes the Cape Wind project and claims that “far-lower-priced renewable energy resources can be obtained in Connecticut and the New England region,” Gilson told regulators.

McAlister, a member of environmental advocacy groups in the Fairfield area, urged regulators to use their authority to protect more than 9,000 acres of open-space land owned by NU in Connecticut.

The parent company of Connecticut Light & Power and Yankee Gas, NU owns 379 parcels of conservation lands throughout the state, including Vaughn’s Neck in New Fairfield, an “unspoiled stretch of peninsula that commands the water route north from Danbury to Sherman.”

McAlister said it is crucial to ensure that any merger agreement extend and further strengthen a memorandum of understanding that NU has reached with the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

The memorandum, which expires in June 2014, is intended to identify and help protect environmentally sensitive property owned by the utility. McAlister urged regulators to include the continued protection of those lands beyond the June 2014 expiration date as a condition of the merger.

NU has said it has no plans to alter the document and will continue to honor it, merger or no merger.

After the hearing, DelGobbo would not say whether the two speakers’ issues are or could become conditions of the merger. Regulators are prohibited from commenting on an ongoing review. PURA has the authority to approve the merger with or without conditions. or reject it.

Representatives of NU and Consumer Counsel Elin Swanson Kartz were among the few people attending Wednesday’s hearing.

Katz said she was surprised that so few people showed up. “But perhaps that’s because they have confidence in the regulators. We continue to advocate on behalf of the ratepayers.” Katz heads the Office of Consumer Counsel, which advocates for the state’s ratepayers

PURA has said it will issue a final decision on the merger by April 2, and has been holding hearings on it with testimony from state and company officials.

To view public comments on file go to http://bit.ly/xmEi1b and click on “customer comments”

URL to article:  https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2012/02/23/concern-about-cape-wind-land-preservation-voiced-at-hearing-on-planned-utilities-merger/