North Country
12:35 pm
Thu April 5, 2012

New PUC Commissioner Rules: His Pension Not A Conflict of Interest

Newly appointed Public Utilities Commissioner Michael Harrington says having a pension from Northeast Utilities is not a good enough reason to disqualify him from hearing a case involving the utility – and so he won’t.

Harrington made the statement in an order he signed Tuesday dismissing a motion arguing that he has an unacceptable conflict of interest.

The order was also signed by Amy Ignatius, the chairman of the Public Utilities Commission.

The disqualification motion came from a Dalton couple, Jim and Sandy Dannis, and the Conservation Law Foundation.

Their concerns were endorsed by the Office of Consumer Advocate, which represents consumer interests before the PUC.

The Dannis’ and CLF cited 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 worked for Northeast Utilities for about two decades and is eligible for a minimum pension of almost $21,000 a year. 

Northeast Utilities is the parent company of Public Service of New Hampshire.

In the order Tuesday Harrington and Ignatius said the Dannis’ and the Conservation Law Foundation had not adequately proved “a sufficient appearance of partiality to merit disqualification.”

Under state procedures commissioners are allowed to rule on such allegations without an outside, independent investigation.

The Dannis’ are core members of Responsible Energy Action LLC, a group working against the Northern Pass project.  In a posting REAL said it disagreed with the process, the analysis and the order.

Last month Executive Council member Ray Burton of Bath voted against appointing Harrington to the commission, citing concerns about a conflict of interest.  Harrington, who was nominated by Gov. Lynch, was appointed on a 4 -1 vote.

Previously New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney said he had reviewed the situation and found no conflict of interest. He also noted that previous commissioner Thomas Getz also has a pension from the utility.

Public Service of New Hampshire  filed a document strongly supporting Harrington and saying there was no reason to disqualify him.