N.H. Supreme Court Says Eversource Can Invest In Gas Pipelines For Electric Supply

May 22, 2018

Credit Consumer Energy / Flicker CC

The New Hampshire Supreme Court says electric utilities like Eversource should be allowed to invest in natural gas pipelines.

Tuesday’s ruling reverses a 2016 order by the state Public Utilities Commission.

Eversource wanted to invest in a natural gas pipeline called Access Northeast, they said, as a means of shoring up the region's electric fuel supplies.

Regulators said that would go against the legislature's restructuring of New Hampshire's electric system.

That policy, also known as deregulation, says companies can't own both power plants and the means of delivering that power to customers.

Now, the state Supreme Court has ruled Eversource should be able to invest in pipeline capacity.

“We discern that the primary intent of the legislature in enacting [restructuring] was to reduce electricity costs to consumers,” the majority opinion states.

The court declined to address whether natural gas supply counts as electric generation, but says that more broadly, restructuring was meant to lower rates, not just separate generation from transmission.

One justice dissented, saying in a minority opinion that “the majority misses the forest for the trees.”

And state ratepayer advocate Don Kreis, who works alongside the PUC, casts the ruling as a threat to restructuring in a Tweet

Meanwhile, Eversource is lauding the ruling, saying in a statement it has “broad implications for New Hampshire’s energy future.”

“For example, there is little question that customers in New Hampshire and the region will benefit from an increased supply of natural gas to be used to create electricity,” the statement says.

The company says it will also ask the PUC to reconsider its denial of a power purchase agreement with Hydro Quebec over the besieged Northern Pass transmission line.

“The PUC’s denial, which led to removal of the agreement and its associated benefits from the New Hampshire siting application, was based on the same flawed legal analysis that the Supreme Court today overturned,” Eversource says.

The PUC will now have to reconsider Eversource's natural gas case with the court's ruling in mind.

Meanwhile, the state Site Evaluation Committee – which has some overlap with the PUC – will meet Thursday to discuss whether to re-hear the Northern Pass application, which it rejected earlier this year.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which would get to help build projects like Northern Pass, also praised the Supreme Court decision Tuesday.

They’re calling for PUC and SEC chair Martin Honigberg to resign, and for the SEC to reconsider Northern Pass with the new legal analysis of the restructuring law in mind.