By Nancy West, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – The Site Evaluation Committee on Thursday issued a written order denying a motion seeking recusal of two members of the panel that denied Northern Pass’ application – Public Utilities Commissioner Kathryn Bailey and Public Member Patricia Weathersby.
The motion for recusal was filed April 27 by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Coos County Business and Employers Group, also called the Business Group. It was opposed by a number of intervenors including the Counsel for the Public, Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and some municipal groups.
Thursday’s order memorializes the 5 to 0 vote SEC members took at the hearing May 24 to deny the recusal motion, with Bailey and Weathersby abstaining. The full seven-member panel also denied Northern Pass’ motion to reconsider the project’s denial and reopen deliberations at the May 24 hearing.
Attempts to reach IBEW were unsuccessful and Martin Murray, spokesman for Northern Pass, said the project has taken no position on the recusal motion.
Jack Savage of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests said the SEC got it right.
“We think the SEC correctly denied the motion,” Savage said. “It seemed like a pretty desperate ploy.”
The Business Group claimed that Bailey and Weathersby should recuse themselves because they lacked the necessary impartiality to continue participating in the proceeding.
They said Bailey demonstrated bias during deliberations by considering that the panel’s decision may be appealed and that it may be beneficial to stop deliberations without creating an unnecessary record.
“The Business Group also claimed that Weathersby demonstrated her alleged bias during the hearing on March 12, when stating that her opinion that Northern Pass failed to meet its burden of proof remained unchanged and is unlikely to change if the Subcommittee proceeded to consider additional statutory factors,” the order states.
The order said the Business Group relied on statements Bailey made during deliberations and statements made by Weathersby during the deliberative hearing on March 12.
“The statements made by Commissioner Bailey concerned a legitimate consideration as to whether deliberations should continue after the Subcommittee determined the Applicant failed to meet its burden of proof,” the order states.
Bailey’s statements showed no bias, and no antagonism toward the applicant or the project, according to the order.
“The Business Group may disagree with Commissioner Bailey’s position, but that disagreement does not form a basis for Commissioner Bailey’s recusal or disqualification,” the order said. “The request for recusal or disqualification of Commissioner Bailey is completely without merit.”
During the March 12 hearing, while deliberating on the applicant’s first motion for reconsideration, Weathersby said that based on the record before her, she continued to believe that the applicant failed to meet its burden of proof and it is unlikely that consideration of other statutory requirements will have any bearing on her decision, according to Thursday’s order.
“Ms. Weathersby’s statement was based on her review of the record and did not express an unfair bias. Statements of deliberative opinions based on the record, regardless of how unfavorable they are toward the Applicant, without more; do not form a basis for recusal,” the order states.
Northern Pass/Eversource originally won the bid to provide renewable energy to Massachusetts, but lost out when the SEC denied their application to build a 192-mile high-voltage transmission line to bring Hydro-Quebec electricity from Pittsburg to Deerfield.
Last week, it was announced that the Maine project that replaced Northern Pass has reached agreement with Massachusetts electric distributors on a 20-year contract to provide 1,200 megawatts of renewable energy.
The Electric Distribution Companies said they successfully concluded negotiations and executed long-term contracts with Central Maine Power Company and HQ Energy Services Inc. for the New England Clean Energy Connect 100 percent Hydro project.
Thursday’s order included the timeline of SEC events since Feb. 1 when it first denied the Northern Pass Transmission project. The evidentiary record closed on Dec. 22, 2017.
- On Feb. 1, the SEC panel concluded deliberations and voted to deny the application.
- On Feb. 28 prior to the Subcommittee issuing its written decision, the Applicant filed a “Motion for rehearing and Request to Vacate Decision of Feb. 1, and Resume Incomplete Deliberations.”
- On March 12, the SEC panel held a public meeting on the Applicant’s motion. After deliberating on the motion, the Subcommittee suspended the decision to deny the Application, subject to certain conditions. A written order memorializing the decision was issued the following day.
- On March 30, the SEC issued a written Order and Decision Denying the Application for Certificate of Site and Facility.
- On April 24, the Business Group filed a Motion for Recusal seeking the recusal of SEC members Commissioner Kathryn Bailey and Public Member Patricia Weathersby. Counsel for the Public; Municipal Intervenors Groups 1 South, 2, 3 South and 3 North (Municipalities); the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, and Bethlehem to Plymouth Non-Abutting Property Owners Group of Intervenors all objected.
- On May 24, 2018, the SEC deliberated and voted 5-0 to deny the Motion to Recuse as it relates to Bailey and Weathersby, who both abstained.