Money First, Nstar-Northeast Utilities Merger Later (USA)

The Patrick administration is signaling it will hold hostage the proposed Nstar-Northeast Utilities merger unless the two electric companies agree to buy Cape Wind power and prove they have “outstanding track records” on clean-energy issues.

In a recent speech to utility insiders, Gov. Deval Patrick’s outgoing environmental and energy czar Ian Bowles said the regulatory standards for reviewing utility mergers need to change to include new clean-energy requirements.

Without naming Cape Wind, Bowles, who leaves office next week, said regulators should ask: “Will a merger help advance the development of the commonwealth’s solar and offshore wind resources?”

Nstar has said it doesn’t want to buy Cape Wind’s power, which is twice as expensive as electricity generated from fossil fuels.

Bowles didn’t name Nstar and Northeast Utilities, but he went on to belittle their investment in a new transmission line that will bring hydroelectric power from Quebec into southern New England. “If a merger simply creates a new entity that is bigger, richer, and in control of a larger service territory – but uses that size, those resources, and a bigger footprint just to build big transmission projects it can then try to bake into its rate base – does this serve the public purposes established in the commonwealth’s laws?”

Robert Keough, a spokesman for Bowles, said the secretary was referring to the Nstar-Northeast merger and that his remarks reflect the views of Patrick and incoming environmental czar Richard Sullivan.

The $4.3 billion Nstar-Northeast merger is being reviewed by the state Department of Public Utilities, whose three commissioners were picked by Bowles.

A spokeswoman for Nstar said the utility is “proud of our green record (and) will happily demonstrate that we meet or exceed all expectations of the Green Communities Act.”

Bob Rio, a senior vice president at the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, said his group – which opposes Cape Wind – would be against “any unfortunate manipulation of the regulatory process” to force utilities to buy their power from specific sources.



Source: bostonherald, December 23, 2010