Blogs > Power to the People

Following energy issues in the state of Connecticut and beyond.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

NU-NStar Meger In Regulatory Redux

While Connecticut consumer advocates attempt to force Northeast Utilities and NStar to have their merger receive a full review here in the Nutmeg State, utility regulators in neighboring Massachusetts are getting for a second round of hearings with the companies.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) will resume its hearings on the merger on Tuesday, said Al Lara, a spokesman from NU. The hearings in the Bay State started at the beginning of the year, but were put on hold in late March as the DPU sought more information from the two companies.
NStar is headquartered in Boston.

At the time, NU officials had expected the hearings in Massachusetts to conclude in August. It was not immediately clear on Thursday whether that timetable was still realistic.

Meanwhile, Connecticut officials are still battling to force a similar review here. Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen went before the state's Department of Public Utility Control in March seeking to convince regulators to conduct full hearings.

But the DPUC rejected that request on June 1 and now Connecticut's Office of Consumer Counsel is appealing the regulatory agency's decision in Superior Court in New Britain. If that appeal, filed Thursday, doesn't work out, it's a good bet that there will be further legal maneuvering on the part of the OCC.

This flurry of activity raises a simple, but important, question: What happens if the merger gets approved by Massachusetts regulators, but is still tied up in the Connecticut's courts?

Is completing the merger in a timely manner so important to the merger partners that they might offer Connecticut officials some concessions in return for making the legal challenge go away? After all, the merger was announced last October and a prolonged delay in the merger might make investors a little squeamish.

The answers to these questions will become clearer as the summer drags on.

Monday, June 27, 2011

UIL Holdings Kicks Off A Series Of Meetings Tonight In Orange

UIL Holdings is taking its show on the road, starting Tuesday night in Orange.

The company, which operates The United Illuminating Co. and three natural gas utilities, is holding the meeting at the High Plains Community Center to help answer questions that customers may have about their energy bills, said James Torgerson, UIL’s president and chief executive officer. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

UIL Holdings also owns Southern Connecticut Gas, Connecticut Natural Gas and Berkshire Gas Co. in Massachusetts. All three utilities were acquired last year from the U.S. operating unit of Spanish energy giant Iberdrola.

"We’re excited about this opportunity to introduce our customers, new and old, to UIL and its utility operations in New England," Torgerson said.

Following Tuesday night's meeting, four more gatherings are scheduled between now and mid-October. Here's a list of the meetings, where they will be held and subject matter that UIL Holdings officials are expected to cover:

July 19 - Bridgeport City Council Chambers, Lyon Terrace. Topics: Storm Response & Infrastructure Planning, Safety.

Aug. 16th - Miller Senior Center, 2901 Dixwell Ave., Hamden. Topics: Power & Gas Procurement, Anatomy of Your Bill, Alternate Suppliers

Sept. 13 - Elmwood Community Center, 1106 New Britain Ave., West Hartford. Topics: Environmental Benefits of Natural Gas, Winter Pricing Forecast, Payment Assistance Programs

Oct. 11 - Hampton Inn Community Room, 184 Shelburne Road, Greenfield, Mass. Topics: Environmental Benefits of Natural Gas, Winter Pricing Forecast, Payment Assistance Programs.

UIL Holdings serves 690,000 electric and natural gas customers in 66 communities in Connecticut and western Massachusetts.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fairfield County Solar Firm Merging With Colorado-based Company

Anyone needing further evidence that renewable energy is becoming big business need look no further than today's announcement that Wilton-based Alteris Renewables and Real Goods Solar announced a plan to merge on Monday.

The deal calls for a swap of stock, with Colorado-based Real Goods Solar issuing 8 million share of its unregistered stock to those who have an equity stake in Alteris, which installs wind power generation units as well as solar systems. Based on Tuesday's $2.48 closing price of Real Good Solar's shares, which trade on the NASDAQ Stock Market, the value of the deal would be $19.84 million.

The amount of shares Alteris equity holders will receive could increase if the company's financial performance over the remainder of 2011 meets certain milestones.

The deal is expected to close sometime in the third quarter of this year, the companies said.

Real Goods Solar installs generation systems at homes and business in California and Colorado. Alteris does business in four of the six New England states as well as New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

“The Northeast and the West represent the two fastest growing markets for solar installations in the country, driven by high energy prices and government incentives in each region,” said Steve Kaufman, former chief executive officer of Alteris and a new board member of Real Goods Solar.

Alteris has 30 employees in Connecticut and 150 total. But its Connecticut roots go beyond being headquartered in Fairfield County.

The company was founded in Vermont in 1980 as Solar Works, according to its web site, but began a series of acquisitions at the start of the last decade. One of those acquisitions was Guilford-based SunSearch in 2008. Later that year, SolarWorks would merge with a Rhode Island-based company and take on the name Alteris Renewables.

Alteris was been named to the Inc. Magazine 500 list of fastest growing companies in each of the last two years.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Energy Efficiency Efforts in Cheshire Spotlighted on CPTV Program

Connecticut Public Television's cameras will be trained on Cheshire later this month as part of a three-part series on energy conservation efforts around the state.

The series, "Empowering Connecticut" will air all three of its half hour episodes back-to-back on June 23rd beginning at 8:30 p.m. Cheshire is featured in one of the segments because of the town's involvement in the statewide Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge.

The competition, which involves Cheshire and 13 other communities around the state, is designed to see which can reduce their energy consumption the most. The goal is to get at least 1,000 people in each of the communities to cut their energy usage by 20 percent.

Towns with the highest scores will receive premiums such as electric car-charging stations and solar-powered LED lighting systems.

The segment featuring Cheshire also involves the town's Energy Commission, which serves the community in an advisory capacity.

The series is hosted and produced by environmental journalist, Christina DeFranco, and has WTNH's Bob Wilson serving as a featured contributor.

Empowering Connecticut showcases Connecticut residents, businesses, and communities that are finding creative and comparatively inexpensive ways to conserve energy. The series is produced in partnership with the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund.

Shown in the photo above (left to right) are: CPTV Photographer Michael Dunphy, Segment Produce Virginia Fisher, Neighbor to Neighbor Community Organizer Crystal Nosal, Reporter Bob Wilson and Michael Ecke, a student volunteer from Cheshire High School.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Energy Legislation Faces Debate, Vote Today

If there's not a whiff of deja vu floating through Connecticut's legislative chambers in Hartford this morning, there ought to be.

Lawmakers are scheduled to debate and take a vote on an omnibus energy bill, Senate Bill 1, that would make sweeping changes to the way the state deals with energy issues. Trouble is, it was a year ago at about this time that lawmakers were taking up a similar bill with the same goals.

Last year's bill passed, but was vetoed by then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Supporters of that legislation weren't able to cobble together enough votes to override the veto.

This year's omnibus energy bill includes the following key elements:

- Forming a Department of Energy and Environmental Protection by merging the departments of Environmental Protection and Public Utility Control.

- Creating a procurement manager’s position to buy power more flexibly for customers who still purchase their electricity through The United Illuminating Co. and Connecticut Light & Power.

- Studying the impact that the regional electric grid operator, ISO-New England, has had on the state’s electric rates.

- Establishing a fund outside of ratepayer dollars for renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects.

- Promoting growth in solar generation statewide, while legally capping the financial impact on consumers.

- Providing low-cost financing for energy-efficiency improvements such as new boilers and furnaces.

- Instituting energy research and technology development centers at Connecticut universities.

There were three major criticisms of last year's attempts at passing a broad energy bill.

One was that it covered too many issues at once, which made it difficult to fully understand and focus on all the details. Another was that Republican lawmakers claimed that much of its development was done private without trying to build a consensus among lawmakers in both parties.

Finally, full fledged efforts to get it passed were made at the 11th hour of the legislative session, even as lawmakers were dealing with other major issues.

And while some of the criticisms mentioned above could be applied to any piece of legislation in any year's legislative session, it has become apparent that lawmakers haven't learned their lesson from last year.

Instead of trying to lump all of the goals of S.B. 1 into a single piece of legislation, break them up into separate bills. It would be better to have some of what is proposed in S.B. 1 become law than none of it at all.

And don't wait until the last minute. A fair number of other important bills have already passed; why does energy legislation always have to wait until the last minute?

Let me put it another way: If lawmakers have already managed to pass budget legislation - as contentious an issue as there is out there right now - how come they can't manage action on energy issues?

Sources at the Capitol told me late Friday that this vote was to have been taken over the weekend. I'll leave it to people with sharper political minds than mind to address why that didn't happen.

But what I do know is that lawmakers need make this a priority now.