New Hampshire's largest utility hopes regulators will revisit two big energy proposals – one dealing with natural gas and the other with Northern Pass – in the wake of a recent state Supreme Court decision.
The utility's filings this week seek to revive two 2016 cases where the Public Utilities Commission applied a view of the state law restructuring the electric industry that the Supreme Court overturned in May.
In one case, Eversource wanted permission to invest in a proposed, multi-state natural gas pipeline, known as Access Northeast, for electric grid reliability purposes.
In the other, it wanted a power purchase agreement with Hydro Quebec to bring more direct benefit to New Hampshire from the embattled Northern Pass transmission line proposal.
The PUC dismissed both of those petitions in 2016. It said the pipeline investment would go against restructuring – and that it couldn’t approve the Northern Pass request if it had rejected the pipeline.
The commission argued the point of restructuring was “to harness the power of competitive markets to reduce costs to consumers by separating the functions of generation, transmission, and distribution.” When first passed in 2015, the restructuring law required Eversource to sell off its power plants and focus solely on the infrastructure that gets power to customers.
In overturning the PUC's interpretation of the law, the state Supreme Court wrote that restructuring was ultimately just about cutting costs for ratepayers, not about introducing competition “as an end in itself.”
In that light, Eversource has asked the PUC to do two things:
- vacate its order denying the Northern Pass deal – with the state's high court poised to decide the fate of the embattled transmission line; and
- prepare to receive an updated version of Eversource’s bid to invest in the proposed Access Northeast pipeline.
Eversource adds that not vacating the Northern Pass order “would create a cloud over the legality of potential future arrangements that may advance the primary purpose of the Restructuring Statute,” as defined by the state Supreme Court.
The PUC's ratepayer advocate, Don Kreis, writes in a letter responding to Eversource’s filings that he wants the commission to reject the requests.
He doesn’t object to the PUC taking up “future requests for similar approvals,” but he says it would be “unfair, unreasonable, and likely unconstitutional” to keep the PUC dockets on the two cases open.
Instead, he says Eversource should have to restart both proposals from scratch. And he calls their original petitions legally “moot” or “dead.”
“Eversource should not be allowed to prolong the life of two contentious PUC proceedings that have no connection to events in the real world,” Kreis says in an email to reporters.
Kreis notes that the Massachusetts Supreme Court has since blocked the Access Northeast pipeline, making Eversource’s assertion that the proposal faces changed circumstances “an understatement.”
He also says “the fundamentals of Northern Pass [are] in limbo,” and Eversource hasn’t said whether it will pursue actual approval of its Hydro Quebec deal.
Eversource has said it expects to take the state Site Evaluation Committee's rejection of Northern Pass to the state Supreme Court, but it hasn't done so yet.