The Mountain Times

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Op Ed:The $21 million CV controversy: My Perspective

The Vermont Legislature is a fine institution, with a proud tradition, whose members strive to form, or reform, law, in a way, as they see it, that best serves Vermont and her people.

However, as legislative sessions draw to a close, it is not uncommon for one issue, particularly one that is more complicated than it first appears, to become contentious, not only in and of itself, but as a vessel through which legislators, and the people they represent, can release the frustrations and disappointments they feel on other issues, related or not.

This year is no exception, and the $21 million for CV customers that is part of merger of Central Vermont Public Service (CV) into Green Mountain Power (GMP), appears to be the issue.

As the Legislature debated the fate of the $21 million last week, emotions ran high, tempers flared, and harsh words were said. Some legislators suggested that CV was not keeping a promise, and breaking a deal it had made in 2001. One legislator went so far as to suggest that thievery was involved, with $21 million to be stolen from CV ratepayers.

These accusations, some made by legislators I've known and respected for many years, are quite serious. And they demand a serious response, even if, indeed, especially if, they are made by old friends and kindred spirits. I shall attempt to do so here.

There are many questions that could be asked, and have been asked, about CV's merger with GMP.  And I am happy, at another time, to do my best to answer all of them. But for now, the one question, at the heart of the legislative controversy last week, and the one that is the greatest source of misunderstanding, and misinformation, is this:

Will CV customers, as a result of the merger, see direct dollar savings of at least $21 million in their electric bills, compared with what their bills would have been, in the absence of the merger?

There is no doubt in my mind, that the answer to this question is yes. Why? Because a very important aspect of the merger agreement, an aspect largely forgotten in the legislative controversy, is that customers of the combined company are assured, over the next 10 years, of $144 million in direct dollar savings in their electric bills. These assured savings come from combining territories, eliminating duplications, and improving efficiencies.

What will this mean for the CV customers, seeking $21 million in savings on their bills?  Well, because more than half the customers of the combined company are current customers of CV, they will receive more than half the $144 million in savings. This means that CV customers will indeed save more than $21 million on their bills, perhaps as much as three times over.

I can assure you that customer savings were a matter of great importance to the CV Board as we   deliberated on the merger of CV into GMP.  Of course, it is the Board's fiduciary responsibility, under law, to do its best for CV stockholders, many of whom are retired CV employees, and others of whom make Vermont their home.

It also was important to the CV Board to ensure that CV employees could transition as smoothly as possible into the combined company. But of equal importance, the Board wanted to assure that customers of the combined company, about 70 percent of all Vermont homes and businesses, including current CV customers, will save money on their electric bills.  All three goals will be accomplished through this merger.

Let me close by adding a thought about the tone of our debate on energy issues. Energy plays an important role in our economy, our environment, and our society.  It always has, and always will.  It is only natural, therefore, that we will have spirited debates as to what policies are best for producing, distributing and using energy, electricity and otherwise. Competition in the marketplace of ideas will produce the best policy.

As we debate competing ideas, however, it serves no useful purpose to impugn the motives or integrity of those who hold different views than our own. It is my hope that we will resolve the challenges before us, in the crucible of compromise, by working together, with respect for all points of view, and the people who hold them. I am optimistic that we will succeed in doing so.

Tagged: op ed