Shumlin opposes utility merger, and also supports utility merger

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.

One Response to Shumlin opposes utility merger, and also supports utility merger

  1. Whoa, nelly,  STOP.  The legislature needs to call a halt PSB process until the public, the press, and especially the Administration can get its act together on this merger.  
    If you think this vital discussion has happened or even could have happened at the PSB, let me tell you how it worked at the PSB’s only public hearing on the merger, November 1, 2011.  
    We only found about the hearing accidentally:  I don’t remember any announcements in the paper or on the radio even though the topic was among the most important issue ever considered.  
    It was to be one of those Vt Interactive TV hearings where various venues from across the state are joined together by a nifty closed circuit tv network.  The Montpelier site was supposed to be the Labor building but when we got there, we had to circle the building several times before guessing at an unlighted, locked door.  We pushed an unmarked button without much hope but eventually a janitor unlocked the door and we found ourselves in the meeting room.  (A friend of ours was not so lucky.  He gave up after circling the huge building several times.)
    The statewide turnout was tiny and composed, in Montpelier, almost entirely of a few lobbyists in suits and shiny shoes.  The other interactive sites had even fewer participants.  Little or nothing was known publicly about the merger, no hearings had been held,  the MOU had not been signed.  The PSB chair was present and in charge of the event but he offered no background, context or introduction  In fact, he sat motionless and wordless and inscrutable through the entire meeting.   The suits briefly stated their support for the merger of their clients, big Vermont business.  The Washington Electric Coop president took a moment to voice concern over control of transmission by the merged GMP.  At another site, one citizen with a clever visual expressed opposition to monopolistic power being vested in a foreign corporation.
    That was about it, an hour max.  
    Apparently we were meant to understand that the judge in a pseudo-judicial process must keep his mouth shut to avoid the appearance of having made up his mind before hearing properly admitted testimony.  But why hold the hearing at all then?  I felt it was to give the false impression that the PSB listens to and cares about what the general public thinks.  The PSB may accept written public comment, but their decisions as I understand it are supposed to be on the basis of testimony admitted and accepted during the formal docket process.  Once the process starts, an ordinary citizen, just getting up to speed, cannot jump in and become a party.    
    The industry and the Shumlin Adm may well have thought they could sneak this merger through before anyone knew what hit them.  It didn’t work.  That is why we find ourselves needing to stop the formal PSB process to allow for the broad policy questions to be decided democratically and in an appropriate forum.  That forum most certainly is not the PSB.