Hydro-Quebec Doesn't Want Power Deal Details Released
08/05/10 5:49PM By John Dillon  Download MP3
(Host) A Canadian power deal that will shape Vermont's energy future for the next 25 years has been delayed in part because of Hydro-Quebec's concern about releasing price details to the public.
As VPR's John Dillon reports, the Hydro-Quebec contract will be discussed at the Burlington city council next week.
(Dillon) Hydro-Quebec and Vermont utilities have spent months negotiating a 26-year, 225 megawatt power deal. The long-term contract was supposed to be wrapped up at the end of July. But the big announcement was delayed.
The contract has to be reviewed and approved by the Vermont Public Service Board. And utility officials say Hydro-Quebec wants financial details kept secret when the contract is filed with the PSB.
Ken Nolan is director of resource planning for the city of Burlington Electric Department, which wants to buy 9 megawatts of the Hydro-Quebec deal.
(Nolan) "And that's part of what the legal teams are talking about is exactly what level of detail can we provide. Hydro-Quebec is very sensitive that this pricing not get out because it's a competitive issue for them."
(Dillon) Nolan says the Burlington City Council is scheduled to consider the contract next week. But under state law, Burlington voters get to have the final say. And Nolan says there's tension between the city's obligation to disclose details to the public and Hydro-Quebec's concern about revealing competitive power price information.
(Nolan) "We're wrestling with the fact that we know that this has to go to a public vote eventually and it's very hard for the residents to decide that they want the contract without understanding the terms behind it. So we're trying to come to a middle ground where Hydro-Quebec feels that their interests are protected but we are able to give the public enough information to know what they're voting on."
(Dillon) The Burlington Electric Commission has already approved the deal but the contract terms were discussed behind closed doors. Nolan says the commission concluded that the pricing terms were favorable. Other utilities, including the Washington Electric Co-op in East Montpelier, also plan to get a piece of the long-term power deal.
But the bulk of the electricity will be sold to Central Vermont Public Service and Green Mountain Power. Robert Dostis of GMP said public disclosure of the contract terms has been an issue.
(Dostis) "The exact information that will be presented is one of the things that we're still working on. So I don't have an answer on what information will be made public. But we will know that at the time of the announcement."
(Dillon) Hydro-Quebec spokeswoman Ariane Connor said the company would not disclose certain competitive price information.
(Connor) "From our point of view it's not an issue. Commercially sensitive information will not be made public. And that's the way it usually goes for any negotiation or contract."
(Dillon) Another factor in the delay of the contract announcement has been simple logistics. Those close to the talks said that scheduling the various politicians and utility officials to be in one place in front of the TV cameras has proved to be a challenge in mid-summer when people are on vacation.
For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.
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