Does a proposed merger of the state’s two largest electric utilities have the support of the governor?
Depends on when you ask.
In an unexpected turn from his usual pro-merger talking points, Peter Shumlin today revealed that he wishes Central Vermont Public Service was never targeted for acquisition by Green Mountain Power.
The lamentation came during a weekly press conference in his ceremonial Statehouse office, where Shumlin said it’s a shame that CVPS was ever the subject of a takeover bid by GMP’s Montreal-based parent company, Gaz Metro.
“I didn’t ask for this merger. I would prefer that CVPS continue to be owned by CVPS, a Vermont company,” Shumlin said.
Huh? So why did his Department of Public Service late last month issue a memorandum of understanding endorsing the proposed merger?
Shumlin said his hands were tied.
“We don’t get to choose in America, in a free capitalist society, who owns what companies,” Shumlin said. “Companies make those choices.”
In the case of regulated utilities, actually, government plays a pretty significant role in determining who owns what.
Commissioner of Public Service Elizabeth Miller said Wednesday that, as the guardian of public interest, her department could have urged the three-person Public Service Board to reject the plan.
“The department can take any position, from we totally agree to we totally disagree,” said Miller, a Shumlin appointee.
She said, however, that her department has to weigh the merits of any proposed merger against the criteria used by the Public Service Board to evaluate utility proposals. Judged against those standards, she said, the terms of the deal, as negotiated by her department, are in the public’s interest.
Shumlin also thinks the merger is in the public’s interest. As he said Wednesday, “it’s a win for ratepayers, it’s a win for jobs.”
Then again, he thinks “philosophically, if we can have Vermont companies owned by Vermont companies, that’s always my first choice and I suspect Vermonters first choice.”
So there you have it.