Speaker Allows Utility Merger Issue To Be Heard

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(Host) An effort to force the state’s largest utility to refund money to customers when it’s sold is gaining some headway in the Statehouse.

As VPR’s John Dillon reports, backers of the legislation are pleased that House Speaker Shap Smith has allowed hearings on the issue.

(Dillon) The debate is over how customers will get reimbursed for paying higher rates a decade ago when Central Vermont Public Service Corporation was in financial trouble.

The Public Service Board has said customers should share in the profits if the company was ever sold. GazMetro of Montreal now wants to buy CVPS and merge it with Green Mountain Power. The utilities want to invest the refund money in weatherization and energy efficiency programs.

Dorset Republican Patti Komline has sponsored legislation that would require a direct $21 million rebate to ratepayers. She says that’s a fairer way to reimburse customers. And Komline objects to the utility’s plan to recoup the weatherization investment through higher rates.

(Komline) "Doing the weatherization piece is not sharing the profit equally. And then putting it into rate base and making people have to pay more money is absolutely appalling."

(Dillon) Komline says she’s confident she has enough votes to get the bill passed if it reaches the House floor. But she says the legislation still has a long way to go.

(Komline) "I hope that they move the bill out on to the floor and we can have a vote on that. My concern is, though, it’s a House bill. It’s going to go over to the Senate and because of the late date it will get caught up in the Rules Committee. And I think that’s the plan – is it will die in the Senate but it will look like there’s movement on this side."

(Dillon) House Speaker Shap Smith says the bill deserves to get a hearing.

(Smith) "This is such a large issue that it’s not something that should be done on the floor of the House. It should be done in committee. There should be extensive testimony taken on whether it’s a good idea to move the amendment forward or not."

(Dillon) But Smith says he does not think the Legislature should get involved in the merger case, which is now before the Public Service Board.

(Smith) "I would be concerned if we were passing laws that were changing the rules of the game in the middle of a trial, and I think that’s akin to what’s being done here."

(Dillon) The House Commerce Committee will hold hearings on the issue early next week.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.


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