Politically Thinking: Douglas a logical pick for CVPS post

<p class="Bodycopy">Gov. Jim Douglas has said little about his plans after his term ends in January, other than that he wants to stay in Vermont. One of Vermont’s leading business positions will come open next year, and it is one for which Douglas could be a strong candidate. Bob Young, president of Central Vermont Public Service, recently announced that he will retire next spring. Board members of the state’s largest utility might well want to talk with Douglas about his becoming CEO of CVPS in 2011.</p> <p class="Bodycopy">Young has been at the head of CVPS for 15 years. Over that time, he addressed some serious issues the company had with state regulators over rates, staffing levels and customer service. CVPS now has some of the lowest rates in New England and has won several industry awards for customer service and storm recovery. </p> <p class="Bodycopy">Young has assembled a strong team of vice presidents and other managers who can oversee the day-to-day operations of the company after he retires. The challenges CVPS faces in the next few years are related more to external political and policy matters than to internal management issues. Douglas may offer a skill set ideally suited to the company’s needs.</p> <p class="Bodycopy">Vermont law requires the legislature to authorize the Public Service Board to re-license a nuclear power plant. As long as Entergy manages Vermont Yankee, the legislature will not vote to let the plant continue operating after March 2012. As an ex-governor, Douglas may have the clout to go to Louisiana and tell Entergy that, if they want to recoup any of their investment in Vermont Yankee, their only choice would be to sell the plant, probably for less than they think it is worth, to a consortium of New England utilities.</p> <p class="Bodycopy">These utilities — such as CVPS, Green Mountain Power, Public Service of New Hampshire and National Grid of Massachusetts — would then replace all of Entergy’s Yankee managers and make one last attempt to get the plant re-licensed. There are obvious financial and political risks associated with this strategy, but this approach may be the only way in which Yankee’s power could continue to flow after early 2012.</p> <p class="Bodycopy">If Yankee does indeed shut down in March 2012, CVPS and Vermont’s other utilities will need to find power to replace Yankee’s output. The most likely source for such power would be Hydro-Quebec, the provincially owned electric utility. Hydro-Quebec is expanding its generating capacity and would like to sell more electricity in the United States.</p> <p class="Bodycopy">Douglas has a close working relationship with Jean Charest, the premier of Quebec. Charest has told Canadian reporters that he expects to lead his party in the next provincial election, which does not have to be held before December 2013. With Charest in power for three more years, he will have a lot to say about Hydro-Quebec’s expansion into the U.S. market. Douglas as CEO of CVPS could build on the ties he has already established with Charest as governor.</p> <p class="Bodycopy">Another issue on which Douglas could help CVPS would be the rollout of the company’s “Smart Power” plan, involving the installation of advanced meters in all CVPS customers’ homes and businesses. The new meters will enable consumers to keep better track of their electric usage, will support a new generation of energy-efficient appliances, and will provide faster recovery from outages. Douglas could be an effective spokesperson for “Smart Power,” helping Vermont consumers and businesses understand the ways in which the new meters can enable them both to conserve electricity and to contribute to larger environmental goals.</p> <p class="Bodycopy"><em>Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.</em></p>

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