New Hampshire calls temporary halt to review of Merrimack scrubber costs

The New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission on Jan. 15 agreed to stay a contentious proceeding over the prudence of the costs and cost recovery for the wet flue gas desulfurization system installed by Public Service Co. of New Hampshire (PSNH) at its coal-fired Merrimack Station.

PSNH requested the stay “to allow collaborative and legislative efforts to progress that may resolve the myriad issues that are currently under consideration.” In support of its request, PSNH stated that state Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley filed Legislative Service Request (LSR) #2015-S-0928-R “relative to electric rate reduction financing and commission action.” PSNH indicates that this LSR will result in proposed legislation that may resolve the issues in two interrelated dockets. PSNH said that Sen. Bradley supports the requested stay. PSNH offered to provide regular updates of the legislation and other efforts to resolve this case.

As for intervenors:

  • TransCanada Power Marketing Ltd. and TransCanada Hydro Northeast Inc. did not object to a settlement effort but raised questions they think should be resolved first.
  • The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) stated that PSNH’s motion “fails to present adequate information regarding the scope, structure, or intent of the proposed settlement process, making it difficult to assess the merits of initiating such a process at this time.”
  • The Sierra Club objected to the motion to stay in both dockets. As to this case, the Sierra Club noted the late filing, the substantial work by all parties to bring this docket almost to its end, and the conflict with PSNH’s oft-stated objection to delay.

“A request to stay at this late juncture is unusual, especially given PSNH’s request for a final order by the end of 2014,” the commission said in its Jan. 15 decision. “PSNH’s reasons for the stay are thin because it mostly relies on a legislative service request that provides little insight into the form that a legislative solution may take. We nonetheless grant PSNH’s motion for several reasons. First, the Legislature passed the law that is at the center of this litigation. We find it reasonable to allow the Legislature time to address and possibly resolve the important issues related to the Scrubber. Second, our final order could disrupt the legislative discussion by strengthening the hand of those whose arguments we adopt and weakening the position of those we rule against. We thus find it best to let the Legislature address the policy issues first. Third, delaying our final order will not harm ratepayers.”

The commission added: “PSNH’s motion to stay is based on possible resolution of issues that are broader than those before us here, and involves those who are not parties. Although nothing prevents the parties to this case from discussing and settling matters within the scope of this docket, we do not think it practical to supervise such a process in light of what appears to be a legislative effort at a global resolution of issues related to PSNH’s generation fleet. The stay will not be indefinite. We will monitor the progress of the legislation and any settlement talks. If and when it becomes clear that neither process will be timely or fruitful, we will issue our order on the merits. We thus require PSNH to file in this docket monthly updates regarding the legislative process and any settlement discussions. Any other party may fileu pdates of its own or in response to PSNH’s filings.”

However, the commission on Jan. 15 refused a PSNH stay request, lodged for similar reasons, in that companion docket, which involves the question of whether PSNH should be ordered to divest its power plants.

“We appreciate the attempt to reach a legislative or other negotiated solution of the issues related to this docket and we are aware of the support for this effort in various quarters,” wrote the commission. “PSNH’s motion to stay, however, conflicts with the express statutory requirement that we ‘expedite [this] proceeding.’ We are thus compelled to deny PSNH’s motion to stay. We will proceed with this docket unless and until that legislative directive is changed. Therefore, all requests of the parties contingent on the Commission granting PSNH’s motion are moot. We note that the next step in this docket, which involves scoping matters, will not adversely affect any legislative or settlement process. We believe that there is the potential for a stipulation among the parties regarding the scoping matters discussed in their December and January briefs. We call upon the parties to work together to develop such a stipulation, to be filed no later than March 2, 2015.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.