By Rob Roper
When it was Vermont ratepayers about to be screwed out of $21 million rightly owed them by Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS) as that company is merging with Canadian Gaz Metro/Green Mountain Power in a very lucrative deal, Governor Peter Shumlin expressed shock that people should “quibble” – his term – over such trifling amounts of money.
But after the Vermont Senate passed legislation 27-3 on April 25 that would make sure that the ratepayers who bailed out the power company in times of financial trouble would be paid back in cash or credit on their electric bills instead of in “societal benefits” somehow accrued by letting the big corporation keep the money, our governor leapfrogged right over quibbling and straight into hissy-fit territory.
In a statement released just minutes after the senate vote, Shumlin railed, “This matter is now in the hands of the [Public Service] Board. The Senate’s action today interferes with an open PSB docket, undermines the credibility of the regulatory process, and is an extreme overreach of legislative jurisdiction.” He then went on in a thinly veiled personal attack on Senate President Pro Tem, John Campbell (D-Windsor), “The Senate should be wrapping up its work and adjourning this week. Instead, adjournment has been pushed back at least a week, and Vermont taxpayers are now on the hook for another $275,000 thanks to the Senate’s inability to complete its work on time. The Senate should focus on the real issues under its jurisdiction, like passing the budget that should have passed days ago, and bringing the session to a close.”
The House currently has 72 sponsors for similar legislation to that just passed by the Senate, and will try to vote on that legislation on Friday – if House majority leadership allows them to. The question is will House Speaker Shap Smith protect the governor from having to face a bill he clearly does not want to land on his desk, or will Smith protect his caucus members from having to defend to their constituents a perfectly outrageous piece of policy.
Just how horrendous this deal is was best described by Rep. Tom Koch (R-Barre Town):
The new plan proposes to give the $21 million to quasi-public entities to support energy efficiency and residential weatherization programs for CVPS customers.… It’s a classic case of Montpelier telling people that Montpelier knows better what to do with the peoples’ money than the people do!
But then the deal that the utilities and the Shumlin administration have cooked up provides that the company will be able to raise its rates in order to recoup the $21 million that it proposes to contribute to the efficiency and weatherization programs!…
But we’re not done. It gets worse—if that’s possible. This week, during hearings on this matter, the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee uncovered the fact that the merged company will be granted a guaranteed seven percent (7%) rate of return on the $21 million “investment” in the efficiency and weatherization programs!!!!!!
To put it in plain English, this deal stinks to the high heavens!
Vermonters know a screw job when they see one, and politicians know angry constituents when the see them. The Senate vote reflects that fact. So why isn’t Shumlin, a very astute politician, climbing on board with public opinion? Simple, ugly answer: Cronyism.
Green Mountain Power, a subsidiary of Gaz Metro, sponsored Shumlin’s inauguration festivities, and Mary Powell, CEO of Green Mountain Power, actually chaired Shumlin’s inaugural committee. In addition, Shumlin’s friends at Efficiency Vermont are the “quasi-public entities” who would pocket much of that $21 million for weatherizing homes to cover those “societal benefits.”
Peter Shumlin has often berated Entergy, owner of Vermont Yankee, as an out-of-state company that we can’t trust because they don’t honor their word or do business the Vermont way. But, Shumlin’s willing to go to the mat for a corporation from another country as it screws Vermonters out of $21 million we were promised would be paid back? The hypocrisy stinks almost as much as this deal.