By RICHIE DAVIS
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
(Published in print: Wednesday, October 21, 2015)
Legislation to rein in the state Department of Public Utilities’ discretion in gas and electric company proceedings got an airing in the Statehouse Tuesday, prompted by the DPU’s handling of a series of natural gas pipeline-related cases.
The bill, filed by Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, would specify that in gas or electric company filings, full participation would automatically be allowed for any municipality within the utility’s service area, any legislator whose district includes the utility’s ratepayers and any group of not less than 10 persons who are ratepayers of the company.
Kulik, who was among those testifying Tuesday before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, filed the bill after he, as part of a coalition, was among those denied full intervenor status during DPU proceedings that approved long-term contracts between Berkshire Gas Co. and Tennessee Gas Co.’s proposed natural gas pipeline through the region.
“I joined a citizen group, legislative colleagues, and municipal officials in my district to seek full intervenor status in the proceeding,” Kulik testified. “The DPU rejected our full intervenor status, saying that we were not ‘substantially and specifically affected by the proceeding.’ I find it absurd for the DPU to say that legislators do not have a stake in such cases.”
Intervenors are people or organizations granted special rights to argue a case before the regulatory panel.
In early June, the DPU rejected petitions from Kulik and the Pipeline Awareness Network for the Northeast, filing jointly, as well as by Northeast Energy Solutions — a coalition of land trusts and environmental organizations — for full intervenor status in Berkshire Gas Co.’s petition for a 20-year supply contract from TGP’s proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline.
Appeals of the DPU petition filed by PLAN and Northeast Energy Solutions are now pending in Supreme Judicial Court.
“It was very unusual and unexpected that the DPU would not allow these interventions of citizens, legislators, municipalities, which historically has been the case,” said Kulik. “It seemed to me that they were shutting out some valuable perspectives and information.”
Members of PLAN include the Greenfield Town Council, the Town of Montague and Reps. Paul Mark and Ellen Story.
If the bill clears the Legislature and is approved by the governor, Kulik said, it would replace the statute that now grants the DPU broad discretion in its choice of intervenors.
“The more I think about it,” Kulik told The Recorder, “the more that’s gone on with the rather quick approval of these (gas supply) agreements, despite the request of Attorney General Healey that they delay action, I sort of feel this particular DPU had its mind made up on this issue and did not want to hear evidence and testimony in opposition to it. I think their mission and responsibility should be to listen to everything that comes in and then evaluate it and reach a decision on the best case. I think their time frame was being driven by (TGP parent) Kinder Morgan’s desire to have these agreements in place to bolster their (federal) case. There was plenty of time. There was no need to rush. There would have been a much more transparent, well-informed process. This bill would guarantee that would happen.”
DPU spokesman Peter Lorenz said, “We look forward to our continued review of Representative Kulik’s proposed legislation and the public comment provided during today’s Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy hearing.”
In written testimony filed with the committee Tuesday, PLAN-NE President Kathryn Eiseman said, “This bill would clarify and codify the right of municipalities, legislators, and groups of ratepayers to intervene in proceedings concerning their utilities. The bill has been necessitated by the (DPU’s) recent rulings denying full party status to such obvious stakeholders.”
Because in its denial, “the DPU did not follow precedent or the general understanding of the law,” wrote Eiseman, she believes the court appeals will prevail. Yet “ratepayers, municipalities, and legislators should not have to go through the expense of a court appeal to become parties in regulatory hearings involving their local utilities.”
You can reach Richie Davis at: email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 269