State Utility Regulators To Review Power Projects

01/11/11 7:34AM By John Dillon
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AP/Jason R. Henske
The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.
(Host) Over the next few weeks, state utility regulators will review several large projects that will shape the state's energy future.

The projects include Vermont Yankee, a large wind energy development, and a new power deal from Hydro-Quebec.

As VPR's John Dillon reports, a big question is whether utilities will reveal publicly the price they're paying for the power.

(Host) The legislature last year rejected Vermont Yankee's bid to keep operating for another 20 years.

Yankee wants lawmakers to reconsider, and a key bargaining chip may be a new power contract between Vermont utilities and Entergy, the company that owns the reactor.

But there's no contract, yet. Nor is it clear how much electricity Vermont utilities need from Vermont Yankee. The plant now supplies about a third of the state's energy needs, but power companies have been busy lining up replacement sources for the future. Steve Costello is a spokesman for Central Vermont Public Service.

(Costello) "We were looking at a huge percentage of our portfolio that needed to be refilled. We have since refilled a large percentage of that gap, between Hydro-Quebec and multiple contracts with other power suppliers, including a lot of renewables."

(Dillon) Yet it's still not clear how much Vermont will pay for the Canadian power, or for other projects, such as new wind developments. Details of the deals have not been made public. Details of the deals have not been made public, although they have been disclosed to regulators under confidentiality agreements.

Hearings on the Hydro-Quebec contract start later this month. And regulators have asked the utilities to show why the price terms should be kept confidential. Costello said CVPS considers some of the information trade secrets.

(Costello) "If we let out the information on what we're paying exactly and how that price is determined, that's going to put us in a much more difficult position negotiating for other power supplies. So we want to protect that information on behalf of the public as much as possible."

(Dillon) The stakes are huge, since the Hydro-Quebec deal would supply a third of the state's electricity. Donald Kreis is a former general counsel for the New Hampshire public utility commission. Kries now is associate director for the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School. He says the public has a right to know what their utilities are paying for power.

(Kreis) "If this bedrock piece of Vermont's energy profile is withheld from public scrutiny, then really it's a form of ‘trust me' regulation."

(Dillon) Kreis says he tried to get details of power contracts that state utilities signed with a New Hampshire wind developer. But regulators allowed utilities to keep some of the information secret.

He says state law requires the utilities to show why the information should be considered confidential.

(Kreis) "And what utilities typically do in every form that I'm aware of is simply state that the information about price in these wholesale power contracts would, if publicly disclosed, be competitively harmful. And all I'm saying about that is: prove it."

(Dillon) The Public Service Board is trying to sort through these issues in a number of cases. In a recent ruling in the Hydro-Quebec case, the board said it wanted to review the documents before deciding if they should be secret.

For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.

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