MASS. GOV. PATRICK WANTS STORM RESPONSE CONSIDERED BEFORE ANY NU-NSTAR MERGER; COULD IT KILL THE DEAL?

Officials from utility companies NStar and Northeast Utilities (NU) thought they only needed to demonstrate how they would structure rates favorably for customers and show they are committed to renewable energy to push through their $4.7 billion merger. Guess again. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick now wants the utilities’ storm response plans to be considered as well.

Making storm response part of the mix of what the gigantic, merged utility has to prove its capable of handling may potentially kill the deal. The merger, announced more than a year ago, has an April 16th deadline. Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Mark Sylvia said in a published report, “We believe that storm response and its impact on ratepayers … is a relevant part of the discussion.” Massachusetts energy officials say storm responses were certainly not impressive and “appear to demonstrate the inadequacies of their current emergency restoration plans.” Of course, these things are all relative. Compared to Connecticut, utility response in Massachusetts was stellar.

Connecticut Light & Power, a subsidiary of NU, is still reeling from its pathetic response to the pre-Halloween snow storm that left hundreds of thousands of customers without power, some for more than a week. It also resulted in the resignation of a top CL&P official and multiple probes into the response (or lack thereof). Gov. Dannel Malloy formed the Two Storm Commission to look into utility response to Tropical Storm Irene.

In a related development, CL&P says it will lower rates for next year.

Massachusetts officials are the only ones currently reviewing the merger. Connecticut, specifically the Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA), weakly decided it didn’t have the authority (despite its name) to review the plan. State Attorney General George Jepsen and others pushed for PURA to do its job and carefully consider the deal. In the meantime, the state consumer counsel’s office has gone to court to give authority to the state.

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