North Country
4:35 pm
Thu March 22, 2012

Conservation Law Foundation Also Asks New PUC Commissioner Be Disqualified

 

The Conservation Law Foundation has joined in a request that newly appointed Public Utilities Commissioner Michael Harrington be disqualified from hearing a case involving the Merrimack  Station powerplant because it feels there is a conflict of interest involving Public Service of New Hampshire.

The issue is that Harrington has a pension from Northeast Utilities, the parent company of PSNH, which routinely goes before the three-member commission.

PSNH has filed a motion supporting Harrington and saying under state law there is no conflict of interest and that the Attorney General reviewed the case and concluded there wasn’t a problem.

In the CLF’s filing earlier this week it argued state law does not allow Harrington’s participation because of his pension.

“In effect Mr. Harrington’s pension payable by NU amounts to a loan repayable to a contract,” the CLF says.

The CLF said it believe Harrington would make impartial decisions.

However,  it added the pension could cause “a reasonable person to question his impartiality” and that warrants his disqualification.

The state's Office of Consumer Advocate, which represents consumers in PUC proceedings, has said it concurs with the concerns raised by the CLF.

The CLF filing supports a motion filed by Jim and Sandy Dannis of Dalton.  Indeed, during a hearing the CLF has acknowledged it did “materially assist” the couple in preparing their motion.

In their motion the Dannis’ say their analysis indicates the Northeast Utilities pension plan is underfunded and its viability depends on how well Northeast Utilities does financially.

They argue that since actions by the PUC could affect Northeast Utilities profits and thus the pension fund Harrington has an unacceptable conflict of interest.

They cite RSA 363:5 which says: No person who owns stock in, or is employed by or otherwise pecuniarily interested in any public utility in this state, or any affiliate thereof, shall be appointed upon said commission.

Harrington, of Strafford, has declined to discuss the matter saying it would be inappropriate given the Dannis’ motion.

He has also declined to provide the amount of his pension.

Harrington was nominated by Gov. Lynch.  Earlier this month his appointment was approved on a 4 -1 vote by the Executive Council.

Councilor Ray Burton, who represents the North Country, voted against Harrington saying he had “too many questions in my mind about his areas of conflict of interest.”

Burton voted not to confirm Harrington despite the opinion from Attorney General Michael Delaney that there was no conflict of interest.

Burton had asked Delaney to research the issue.

The Commission has yet to rule on disqualification motion and it is unclear whether Harrington will be involved in that decision.

The Dannis' are active opponents of the Northern Pass project. While the current motions for disqualification do not mention Northern Pass the Dannis' ask that Harrington be disqualified from any matter involving Northeast Utilities or affiliated corporations.  It is likely that at some point Northern Pass will come before the PUC.