N.H. Consumer Advocate Wants Price of Northern Pass Power made public

Concord Monitor
Published: 7/12/2016 10:50:56 PM
Modified: 7/12/2016 10:50:59 PM

Concord — The state consumer advocate is fighting Eversource Energy’s request to keep secret the price it plans to pay for power off the Northern Pass transmission line.

“In any contract for the purchase of goods or services, the key term is the price,” said Donald Kreis, who represents ratepayer interests before state energy regulators. “It’s especially important here.”

At issue is a power purchase agreement between Eversource and HydroQuebec, filed at the Public Utilities Commission for approval last month.

The deal secures 10 percent of the 1,000-megawatt Northern Pass line for Eversource customers if the controversial transmission line is built. The 20-year agreement is “expected to produce economic benefits” for New Hampshire customers that exceed $1 billion in energy cost savings, Eversource said.

But the utility is requesting to keep the deal’s price data confidential. The documents Eversource filed at the PUC are heavily redacted, and all information about cost is blacked out.

Kreis is asking the PUC to unseal the information because he said customers have a “pressing” interest to scrutinize the details. Ratepayers will be responsible for the deal whether it proves beneficial or not, Kreis said.

“It is in the best interests of residential utility customers for the Commission’s evaluation of this controversial proposal from PSNH to take place in the sunshine,” he wrote in a petition filed at the PUC.

Eversource, formerly Public Service of New Hampshire, argues that the information should remain confidential because public disclosure could damage its ability to attract negotiating partners in the future. Eversource promised price confidentiality in its contract with HydroQuebec, it said, and revealing the information could harm the ability to sell its remaining power on the competitive market.

Kreis has read the unredacted documents, but can’t speak freely about their contents unless the PUC rules to make the information public. The commissioners have yet to issue a decision.

Eversource announced the power purchase agreement last year in the wake of local criticism that Northern Pass would not benefit New Hampshire customers. At the time, executives declined to reveal any pricing information, or how much the PPA would cost Eversource customers.

The documents filed last month show Eversource plans to sell the Northern Pass power and then credit customers with the profits.

The deal is unusual. Typically, utilities factor power purchase agreements into their customers’ default energy charge, which ratepayers can avoid if they buy power on the competitive market.

Eversource’s proposal would be applied to all its consumers, without exception.

“This is mainly to ensure the benefits of the PPA are provided to all Eversource-NH customers,” spokesman Martin Murray said.

Eversource said the agreement is expected to reduce energy price volatility and will lower customer costs in all but “one aberrant scenario,” according to testimony from Vice President of Energy Supply James Daly. That unlikely scenario, Daly said, would occur if both energy prices sharply declined and the market experiences low volatility in the years after the agreement took effect.

The PPA filing comes as Northern Pass works its way through the state permitting process. The proposed transmission line needs sign-off from federal regulators and the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee.

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