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PSC Staff Responds To Rehearing Request From Utility Merger Opponents

Christopher Sessums, flickr

Staff of the New York State Public Service Commission has weighed in on whether the PSC should reconsider its approval of a utility merger in the Hudson Valley.

The Public Service Commission approved the $1.5 billion acquisition of Poughkeepsie-based CH Energy Group, parent company of Central Hudson Gas and Electric, by Canadian energy company Fortis Inc. in June. The deal was closed in July. But three petitions were filed at the end of July, within the time allowed to file any objections or comments. These petitions request a rehearing and the resetting of utility rates until lower rates could be set. In last-minute enhancements to a January joint proposal, Central Hudson and Fortis did agree to a one-year rate-freeze extension.

Gerald Norlander is executive director of Albany based-Public Utility Law Project, or PULP, and one who filed a petition for a rehearing.

One of the process issues, he says, concerns evidentiary hearings. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and others either opposed to or concerned about the deal called for them, after the January joint proposal, which was a package of consumer protections.

ALJs are administrative law judges. Comments filed by PSC staff in response to opponents’ request for a rehearing and rate inquiry conclude there are no grounds for a rehearing. In addition, PSC staff writes that there was no need for evidentiary hearings and none of the opponents who weighed in on the acquisition – neither PULP, nor Citizens for Local Power and a municipal consortium nor Democratic Assemblyman Kevin Cahill – requested such hearings until May.

PULP’s Norlander believes there is another problem.

He maintains there should have been at least a revised State Administrative Procedure Act notice.

Here’s Central Hudson Spokesman John Maserjian.

Attorneys for Central Hudson also filed a response to the petitions for a rehearing and rate change. PSC staff adds that there was no error of law or fact in the acquisition order, and that the joint proposal mitigates all risks identified by the parties on record. A PSC spokeswoman says the Commission continues to consider the filings it has received regarding a rehearing and rate investigation. She says no date has been set for a decision.

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