By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — The state consumer advocate wants the Public Utilities Commission to close two cases Eversource claims should be revisited in light of a recent New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling.
The Supreme Court decision said state utility regulators erred in rejecting Eversource’s proposed 20-year agreement to reserve natural gas capacity on a proposed pipeline.
The Public Utilities Commission ruled in October 2016 the proposed agreement with Algonquin Gas for the Access Northeast project violated the state’s electric industry restructuring law and would have customers pay for generation assets.
Earlier this week, Eversource sent the PUC a letter saying it would file an amended proposal for the gas pipeline and said the PUC should vacate its decision denying a proposed Power Purchase Agreement with Hydro-Quebec related to the Northern Pass transmission project in light of the court’s decision.
The Supreme Court decision said that the prime goal of the state’s electric deregulation law was to lower electric prices and not to create a competitive energy market by separating generation operations from distribution and transmission operations as the regulators had ruled.
State Consumer Advocate D. Maurice Kreis said in both cases the questions raised by Eversource are moot because Access Northeast was abandoned by developers a year ago and Northern Pass’s application has been denied by the Site Evaluation Committee.
“In reality, the petition in each docket is now moot and the commission should therefore close both proceedings,” Kreis wrote to the PUC on Tuesday.
While the New Hampshire Supreme Court sent the Access Northeast question back to the commission, Kreis noted, the developers of the pipeline – including Eversource – a year ago withdrew the project. That was after the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled the project violated that state’s electric deregulation law saying customers should not pay for the project in rates as proposed.
At the time the project was withdrawn, developers said the project would not go forward unless Massachusetts lawmakers change that state’s deregulation law, Kreis said.
And he noted the New England regional electric grid operator’s recent study of future electric capacity does not include additional gas capacity or a new or expanded gas pipeline.
“In these circumstances, the Commission should close Docket DE 6-241 (Access Northeast) and make clear to PSNH (Eversource) that any subsequent proposal to force electric customers to pay for gas pipeline capacity must be made via a new petition with the requisite supporting testimony and exhibits,” Kreis wrote. “Any other course of action would be manifestly unfair and would raise serious issues of due process.”
Under the same issues of fundamental fairness and due process, Kreis said the PUC should also close the docket for the Power Purchase Agreement.
“Any similar Power Purchase Agreement that might arise out of some future version of Northern Pass would require an entirely new filing,” Kreis wrote.
He said the opportunity to appeal the order on the Power Purchase Agreement has long since passed and any attempt to change the decision would be inequitable.
“The (Office of Consumer Advocate) does not object to explicit determinations that closure of these dockets is without prejudice to future requests for similar approvals,” Kreis wrote. “However, we strongly believe it would be unfair, unreasonable, and likely unconstitutional, for the Commission to keep these dockets alive in the circumstances.”
Eversource has said its believes the New Hampshire Supreme Court interpreted the restructuring law correctly and it has broad implications for the state’s energy future and the need for additional sources of reliable and affordable energy.
The dismissal of the Power Purchase Agreement prevented the Site Evaluation Committee from considering its significant benefits during Northern Pass deliberations, Eversource spokesman Martin Murray said earlier this week.
Opponents of the project say Eversource voluntarily withdrew the Power Purchase Agreement when the Site Evaluation Committee was considering Northern Pass.
The SEC rejected the Northern Pass application saying the company failed to meet its burden of proof the 192-mile, $1.6 billion project from Pittsburg to Deerfield would not unduly interfere with the orderly development of the region, one of four criteria needed to approve a major energy project.
Last month, the SEC rejected Northern Pass’s request to reconsider its 7-0 rejection of the project by the same vote.
Eversource is expected to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. Northern Pass has 30 days to appeal the decision to the court once the written order rejecting reconsideration is published.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org