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Schumer Wants Answers About CH Energy/Fortis Deal

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer was in the Hudson Valley Friday. New York’s senior Senator says without answers to questions he has raised for some time, he cannot support a proposed utility merger in the Hudson Valley. As he was voicing his concerns, a pair of administrative law judges released a recommended decision about the merger.

The proposed merger is between Canadian energy company Fortis and Poughkeepsie-based CH Energy Group, parent of Central Hudson Gas and Electric Corporation. And the Democratic Schumer says he has serious concerns.

The New York State Public Service Commission, after hearing from elected officials and community members, had extended the public comment period on the merger till May 1. Schumer says more time is still needed, and he called on the PSC to again extend the comment period as well as hold an evidentiary hearing.

As to what those questions are, Schumer replies:

CH Energy and Fortis filed a joint proposal with the PSC in January of this year, with a number of conditions to protect customers.

That’s Central Hudson spokesman John Maserjian, who says there are storm preparedness plans, a commitment to infrastructure investment — which could tap Fortis’ resources —and continued environmental programs along with a solar net metering program. And there is a freeze on rake hikes through July 1, 2014, a timeframe deemed too short by Schumer. Again, here’s Central Hudson’s Maserjian.

Standing by Schumer’s side was Ulster County Executive Michael Hein.

Schumer insists the details and safeguards of the proposed merger are absent.

Also Friday, two administrative law judges wrote of their concerns in a recommended decision. The advisory document’s conclusion opens with, quote, “We find it relatively easy to conclude that the benefits of the merger transaction pursuant to the Joint Proposal are outweighed by the detriments remaining after mitigation.” The judges recommend that the commission consider adopting the proposed terms subject to modifications that would alter the transaction’s balance of risks and benefits.

The Recommended Decision is an advisory opinion that will be considered by the commission in determining whether to approve the acquisition. Central Hudson officials say they believe the concerns expressed in the Recommended Decision can be successfully resolved, and that the transaction is expected to close during the second quarter of 2013. Fortis released a statement saying it would continue discussions toward gaining approval of the merger, which it expects will close in June.

As for Fortis, Schumer says:

The day Schumer made his remarks, Fortis and Central Hudson executives, met with the editorial board of the “Poughkeepsie Journal,” saying the deal is a good fit, and Central Hudson would be operated as a stand-alone company.

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