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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.


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