Politically Thinking: Power deal needs careful review

The Vermont Public Service Board has opened its review of the proposed purchase of Central Vermont Public Service by Gaz Metro, the Canadian utility that is the corporate parent of Green Mountain Power, and the subsequent merger of CVPS into GMP. One of the most important issues the PSB must decide in this preliminary phase of the proceeding is whether to grant the petition filed by Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans, and 45 other Vermont ratepayers to appoint an independent counsel to represent the public interest before the board.
The merger would fundamentally reshape the electric utility business in Vermont. The combined GMP-CVPS would control over 70 percent of the market for retail electricity distribution in the state. The merged company would also have effective control over the Vermont Electric Power Company (VELCO), which constructs, owns and operates the state’s electrical transmission infrastructure.
Vermont statutes provide that the Department of Public Service, an agency in the executive branch, normally represents the public’s interests in proceedings before the Public Service Board. However, the board’s rules permit the appointment of independent counsel to represent the public interest if the board determines that the department cannot do so in an unbiased manner.
The Illuzzi petitioners’ argument is that the Shumlin administration, in particular the governor himself, has already come out in such strong support of the proposed merger that the PSB, a department of his administration, cannot be relied upon to offer a truly independent review of the proposal. Shumlin has already made it clear that he supports the combination of CVPS and GMP. The governor sees the merger as facilitating one of his long-standing goals, relying more on power from renewable sources in Canada to replace power now generated at Vermont Yankee or purchased from fossil fuel plants.
There are many connections between subsidiaries of Gaz Metro and officials of both Democratic and Republican administrations, some of which are noted in Illuzzi’s petition. Mary Powell, the CEO-designate of the combined GMP-CVPS, is a top Democratic donor and chaired Shumlin’s inaugural committee. Neale Lunderville, a senior official in the Douglas administration, went to work for GMP after he left state government. Lunderville returned to the Shumlin administration a few months ago to coordinate Irene storm recovery efforts. Jim Condos, Vermont’s Democratic secretary of state, worked for Vermont Gas Systems, another Gaz Metro subsidiary, before he was elected to his current position. Condos’ position at VGS is now held by Steve Wark, who was deputy commissioner of public service in the Douglas administration.
The Illuzzi petitioners argue that the close relationships, and interchange of key personnel, among Gaz Metro, VGS and GMP, and senior officials in state government, make it most unlikely that the Shumlin administration’s Department of Public Service will be able to serve as an effective representative of the public interest in reviewing the merger. The petitioners claim that the Department of Public Service will be a representative of the governor, not the public, on this matter.
The CVPS-GMP merger may well turn out to be a good deal for Vermont’s consumers and businesses. However, considering the magnitude of the changes that would result from the merger, the proposal must receive a searching evaluation from the Public Service Board. In an environment in which transparency in politics is highly valued, the confidence of customers in the merger, and the quality of the board’s review of the proposal, would be enhanced if the public interest were represented before the board by independent counsel rather than by the Shumlin administration’s Department of Public Service.
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

Share this story:

More News

Bernard D. Kimball, 76, of Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — Bernard D. Kimball, 76, passed away in Bennington Hospital on Jan. 10, 2023. … (read more)

News Uncategorized

Fresh Air Fund youths returning to county

The Fresh Air Fund, initiated in 1877 to give kids from New York City the opportunity to e … (read more)

Obituaries Uncategorized

Mark A. Nelson of Bristol

BRISTOL — A memorial service for Mark A. Nelson of Bristol will be held 1 p.m. on Saturday … (read more)

Share this story: