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State widens review of Cape Light dealings

BARNSTABLE – The state’s governmental watchdog is asking the communities in the Cape Light Compact about how the regional energy agency interacts with its members.

In letters sent last month to Dukes and Barnstable counties and the organization’s 21 member towns, the Massachusetts Office of the Inspector General asked for information on compact representatives, meeting minutes and other documents related to the agency.

Critics have argued that the compact, which was formed in 1997 to buy power in bulk for electric customers on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, provide energy-efficiency programs for local businesses and residents, and advocate for ratepayers, hasn’t been transparent enough. A special subcommittee of the county’s Assembly of Delegates recommended in May 2012 that the inspector general review a report critical of the relationship between the Cape Light Compact and Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative, an agency formed in 2007 to pursue renewable energy projects in the region.

In July 2012, the compact’s lawyers sent a letter to the office of the inspector general asking for a review of the competitive electric supply procurement process.

In December 2013 the full county assembly voted to ask Inspector General Glenn Cunha and Attorney General Martha Coakley for help in understanding the finances and operations of the two regional energy agencies.

After reading the assembly subcommittee’s report, it was clear questions weren’t going away, compact Administrator Maggie Downey said.

Inspector general representatives met with compact officials in October 2013, met separately with the compact’s auditors and requested documents as part of the ongoing dialogue, Downey said.

“They have had all of our financial records for well over two years,” she said.

Inspector General spokesman Jack Meyers declined to comment on the investigation.

Assembly Speaker Ronald Bergstrom said he thinks the inspector general’s requests were prompted by the compact’s filing of an update of the organization’s founding document with the Department of Public Utilities in Boston.

“All of this indicates to me that somebody’s going to make a report up there either slapping (the compact) on the wrist or telling them they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread,” Bergstrom said.

Town officials said they plan to respond to the information requests as soon as possible although there were different opinions on how much work they would require.

“There are not a whole lot of records that we have that are contained within what the inspector general has requested,” said Yarmouth Assistant Town Administrator Peter Johnson-Staub.

The one exception, Johnson-Staub said, are voluminous emails by longtime compact critic Eric Bibler.

Brewster Town Administrator Charles Sumner said he has scheduled a meeting with the town attorney to review the request but plans to comply as quickly as possible.

“It’s a lot of information and it’s a lot of work,” he said.

Bibler, who lives in Connecticut and is a frequent visitor to the Cape, said he thinks the questions go beyond a problem with transparency.

Coakley’s office has raised concerns about whether a charge on electric bills collected by the compact that is used to help pay for cooperative renewable energy projects is an illegal tax and also whether funds collected by the compact have been distributed fairly, Bibler said.

In addition, there are outstanding questions about whether the governance structure of the compact provides an appropriate level of accountability, he said.