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Editorial: The real populist message is to follow PSB’s lead

The brouhaha over who gets how much of $21 million from the potential merger of the state’s two largest utilities has devolved into a spat over splitting the spoils, rather than a conversation about what’s best for the state.
The spat has been led by the AARP and its populist call to return the money to the ratepayers, regardless of the consequences or whether another idea may help those who need it most far more effectively. Not surprisingly, 70 legislators have signed on to a petition that favors this same populist notion: a deal is a deal, they say; let the ratepayer decide how to best spend their pittance of the spoils.
On the other side of the conversation are legislators who are siding with the Public Service Board’s recommendation that the utilities use that money to invest in conservation programs to help make people’s homes more energy efficient.
Let’s look at the math. The $21 million was part of a deal the PSB extracted from CVPS when the state bailed the utility out of hard times over a decade ago (see story, Page 1A.) The deal was that amount of money would be returned to ratepayers if and when the utility was sold. Now that a merger is pending, the $21 million, if returned in cash, would be split according to the volume of electricity used per customer.
Half of the cash would go to commercial businesses and industry. Omya, the quarry industry in Florence, would receive more than $1 million. Other large industries in CVPS’s territory would receive similar large payouts; most don’t need the rebate to prosper, but will be more than happy to take it.
Of the $10.5 million left, the largest residential users will get the biggest checks. So, the owners of 6,000-square-foot homes with hot tubs, pools and energy consumptive appliances and gadgets will benefit the most. Those with modest homes will benefit the least.
The AARP says the average payout per residential user will be about $76; but don’t be surprised if the math works out that there are many checks in the $150 range to wealthy folks, while those who could use the rebate get $50 or less.
Other than the unfairness of this suggestion, is all this fuss really over who gets that $50 — or less?
Unfortunately, the AARP is using the issue to champion its political muscle, while supporters are caught up in the populist sound bite (“a deal is a deal,” and “let the public decide what to do with their own money” that strikes an emotionally charged chord.
Hopefully, rational thought will prevail. The PSB’s recommendation would generate $25 million in value to those who need it most, which would also create energy savings (which is the same as cash in their pockets) for those same homeowners year after year — plus it reduces energy consumption.
That’s the populist argument that should prevail.
Angelo S. Lynn

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