State Seeks Public Role On VELCO Board

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(Host) The Shumlin Administration wants the public to have more of a role in managing Vermont’s statewide electric grid.

The suggestion for more public oversight came as regulators review the planned sale of Vermont’s largest electric company.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The bidding war last summer for Central Vermont Public Service Corporation kicked off a broad discussion about the oversight and control of the transmission network.

GazMetro of Montreal eventually won the right to buy CVPS and merge it with Green Mountain Power. The combined company would own a majority stake in the Vermont Electric Power Company, which manages the statewide transmission network. But critics questioned if the deal would concentrate too much control into one, Canadian-owned corporation.

The state agency that represents ratepayers took a look at the issue.

(Miller) "We’re trying to achieve a significant portion of the VELCO board being invested with the public interest."

(Dillon) Elizabeth Miller is commissioner of the Department of Public Service. She asked Michael Dworkin, a law professor and former utility regulator, to examine VELCO’s corporate structure. Dworkin testified for the state that the public should get five seats on VELCO’s 13-member board.

The state submitted Dworkin’s testimony this week. And Miller says the goal is to ensure that the state’s transmission network is operated with the public good in mind.

(Miller) "There was a concern expressed by many in the docket and shared by the department that the general good, that the public interest, depending on how you look at that phrase, be served in VELCO’s decision-making."

(Dillon) Kerrick Johnson is a VELCO vice president. He pointed out that Dworkin’s testimony also said that VELCO is well-managed and benefits ratepayers

(Johnson) "I think, though, where we part company is with some of the proposals with regard to protecting against potentialities in the future. And there, some of the proposals we think are needlessly damaging; they’re disruptive and could be financially de-stabilizing."

(Dillon) In particular, Johnson questions whether VELCO could operate effectively under a board with more public members.

(Johnson) "We’re a capital intensive company. We need millions and millions of dollars to be able to build the projects necessary for grid reliability. We just don’t know based on our initial read and until this is fleshed out, when you start fundamentally altering the decision making process what the consequences of that are."

(Dillon) Essex-Orleans Senator Vince Illuzzi is a strong critic of VELCO. He worries that his Northeast Kingdom district would see more power lines from Quebec if VELCO is controlled by a Montreal-based company

(Illuzzi) "I see Vermont being used to serve the corporate interests of GazMetro, to serve the interests of those in southern New England and New York. And Vermont being a secondary or tertiary thought."

(Dillon) Illuzzi says the state’s suggestion to change the VELCO board is a step in the right direction.

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


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