Debate Over Utility Refund Intensifies At Statehouse

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(Host) A growing number of lawmakers are questioning the fairness of a deal supported by Governor Peter Shumlin and Green Mountain Power over how to return $21 million to CVPS ratepayers as part of the GMP/CVPS merger. 

As VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, the question is quickly becoming one of the top issues at the Statehouse.

(Kinzel) These lawmakers argue that consumers deserve a direct rebate since ratepayers helped CVPS avoid bankruptcy in 2001.  However, the utilities and the Governor want to put the funds into weatherization and efficiency programs that they say will give consumers more value by lowering energy bills.

Franklin senator Randy Brock wants the Governor and the utilities to drop their approach and support a direct rebate to consumers.

He notes that under the GMP plan, the utility will be allowed to recoup its money in the future through higher rates.

Brock is seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination but he insists that this effort is strictly non partisan.

(Brock) "We believe that the ratepayers have the right to be reimbursed appropriately and to decide how best to use the money that they paid in to help CVPS out."

(Kinzel) Tim Ashe is a Democratic and Progressive senator from Chittenden County. He agrees with Brock.

(Ashe) "If weatherization and other efficiency services which many of us strongly support are also a desired goal then that’s something that should be considered on its own."

(Kinzel) It’s unlikely that GMP will agree to change their plan. Spokesperson Robert Dostis says it’s a package that can’t be broken apart.

(Dostis) "It was a long process to come to agreement. In any agreement you’re not going to have all sides happy with the outcome. For a senator to say that we want to have them renegotiate this so we get something that we all like, that just will not happen."

(Kinzel) Underlying the whole debate is GMP’s assertion that the $700 million merger could fall apart if they have to rebate the money. Mary Powell is the president of GMP.

(Powell) "I’m telling you flat out that this is a significant issue and absolutely could have the ability of killing the deal."

(Kinzel) Senator Brock says he doesn’t understand how this statement could possibly be true.

(Brock) "I don’t believe that for a second. There’s no evidence to support that and if you have a $700 million merger that’s going to be derailed… I think that this is not a merger that makes any sense if that’s the case but I don’t believe that for a second."

(Kinzel) Brock says he doesn’t want the Legislature to pass a law telling the Public Service Board what to do but he says he might have to look at this option if the Governor and GMP don’t change their position in near future.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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