Statewide Power Grid In Middle Of Battle For CVPS

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(Host) A high-stakes battle is under way for control of the state’s largest utility.

But there’s another company that’s potentially at play in the takeover fight between Canadian companies.

As VPR’s John Dillon reports, the electric transmission company VELCO is also involved.

(Dillon) When Gaz Metro of Montreal laid out its offer to buy Rutland-based Central Vermont Public Service Corporation, it added a substantial political sweetener to the bid made just weeks before by another Canadian company.

Gaz Metro, which also owns Green Mountain Power, said it would give the public a stake in the company that controls the state’s transmission network.

Chris Dutton is CEO of VELCO, the company that operates that network. Dutton says he wasn’t consulted about the Gaz Metro proposal and is not taking sides in the bidding war.

But he agrees with Gaz Metro that the public ownership piece would generate about $1 million a year in VELCO dividends that the state could use to pay for low income programs.

(Dutton) "And second they wanted to address the perception that people have, at least some people have, that there would be concerns about concentration of ownership in VELCO."

(Dillon) East Montpelier Democrat Tony Klein has raised those concerns. Klein chairs the Natural Resources and Energy Committee. He says if Gaz Met succeeds in its bid for CVPS, then Vermont could be used as a route to bring in power from Hydro-Quebec to points south.

(Klein) "You’re talking about 70 percent of the ratepayers being owned not only by one company but now by one company that is owned by a foreign entity that has a lot of relationships with other energy entities that see Vermont as an economic necessity to transmit their power to the other more populous areas of lower New England."

(Dillon) VELCO’s Dutton says Vermont could be an attractive route for Canadian power imports. But he says doesn’t think that scenario is any more or less likely if Gaz Metro buys CVPS. And he said there are checks and balance to protect the public. First, he says, is VELCO’s charter, which says a majority owner in VELCO must use its interest impartially.

(Dutton) "The key here was not to allow for the majority owner to abuse or take advantage of minority interests."

(Dillon) Dutton says the Public Service Board would also evaluate any transmission proposal to make sure it met both an economic and public interest test.

(Dutton) "And that would be, I think, a substantial undertaking for any proponent of such a project. On the other hand, if the Vermont utilities were buying the power – and it could be demonstrated that it was the right choice, for both economic and other reasons, reliability and so on – then I think it’s more clear, more demonstrable that the project provides value to Vermont."

(Dillon) Dutton is a former president of Green Mountain power. He points out that in the 1980s Vermont got a good deal on Hydro-Quebec power in exchange for a high voltage power line in the Northeast Kingdom that ships electricity south to Massachusetts.

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

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