Douglas to appoint Public Service Board chair

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas will get a chance this winter to appoint a new chair of the Public Service Board, the state panel that regulates utilities. The six-year term of current chairman Michael Dworkin expires in February. Douglas says he wants to examine the field of applicants and find the best-qualified person for the job.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The appointment will give Douglas a chance to put his stamp on utility policy. Although the Public Service Board chair may have a lower profile than a state Supreme Court justice, he or she arguably has more impact on the daily lives of Vermonters.

The Public Service Board sets utility rates that are paid by residents and businesses. In the next few years, the board will also look at a number of looming energy issues from wind power to nuclear waste. The state needs to replace two-thirds of its long-term energy supply. Contracts with Hydro-Quebec will expire in the middle of the next decade and the license for the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant runs out in 2012.

Douglas says he wants to find the best-qualified person for the job when Chairman Michael Dworkin’s six-year term runs out in February. The governor said he would not automatically re-appoint Dworkin.

(Douglas) “That’s not the way I understand the process to work. He has to compete along with anybody else who’s interested in the job. It’s not an automatic re-appointment.”

(Dillon) The governor said he wants to consider all qualified applicants.

(Douglas) “I think it’s important to find the best-qualified person for this important responsibility. Vermont has electric rates that are very high for the northeast and around the country and we have to be sure to find people who understand the concerns of ratepayers and continue to regulate utilities in ways that serves the public interest.”

(Dillon) Dworkin was out of town and could not be reached for comment. He has told those close to him, however, that he is interested in staying on as chairman.

Dworkin served as general counsel to the board from 1988 to 1995, and later worked for a telecommunications company. In 1999, then-Governor Howard Dean picked him as board chair. Dworkin has worked to eliminate a backlog in the board’s docket. He’s also presided over several complex cases including a major transmission line upgrade and a proposal by Vermont Yankee to boost power at the 30-year old reactor.

Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, says Dworkin has been an impartial judge of utility issues, and has not given consumers or power companies everything they’ve wanted. Burns would like to see Douglas keep Dworkin on the job.

(Burns) “Michael Dworkin is known for being fair, thorough and incredibly knowledgeable about the subject matter that the Public Service Board deals with. He is exactly the kind of leader that should be running this important state agency. And I think again, it’s a great opportunity for the governor to show this is not about partisan politics it’s about putting or in this case leaving the best person for the job in place.”

(Dillon) The application process for the Public Service Board is much the same as that for judges. The Judicial Nominating Board screens a list of names and forwards those it deems qualified on to the governor. Last week, the nominating board began advertising for the chairman’s job. It will accept applications through next Monday.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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