High-watt hearings on proposed utility merger

NStar and Northeast Utilities will begin a series of high-stakes regulatory hearings tomorrow that will determine whether the two electric giants will be allowed to merge — and may also decide the fate of Cape Wind.

The Boston Herald previews tomorrow’s Department of Public Utilities hearings with a story that’s heavy on Cape Wind speculation. The offshore wind energy project  is ostensibly unrelated to the merger of the two electric providers. But Cape Wind is unlikely to secure construction financing without securing buyers for most of its electric output, and talk of linking Cape Wind to the NStar-NU merger began swirling shortly after the merger was announced in October. A delay on DPU’s part — tomorrow’s hearings were originally scheduled for February, a date that preceded Cape Wind’s final federal approvals — only ratcheted up speculation.

The NStar-NU merger has the potential to become a political contest between competing renewable energy platforms. The Patrick administration, whose DPU administrators will review the merger, is an advocate of homegrown wind and solar power. The administration has thrown strong political support behind Cape Wind. NStar, on the other hand, has conspicuously avoided discussions involving Cape Wind. The utility has tried to meet its statutory obligation of purchasing 3 percent of its electric load from renewable sources via cheaper land-based wind contracts. NStar and Northeast Utilities also hope that their combined utility will tap cheap hydroelectric power from Quebec.

The question is whether DPU will let the combined NStar-NU count the yet-to-be-constructed hydro line toward its renewable goals, or whether it will effectively knuckle the two into buying into Cape Wind as a precondition to a merger.

In today’s Herald, NStar CEO Tom May takes a few shots at the regulators he’ll appear before tomorrow, criticizing the extended review period, as well as the shifting criteria the merger will be examined against. Previously, merging companies just had to show they wouldn’t be harming consumers, but now, DPU is asking the two utilities to demonstrate public benefits.

“This has gone on longer than is normal, and the process has taken some twists and turns in terms of a new standard,” May tells the Herald. “I don’t think it’s good to drag on and on….I think it sends a bad message to businesses in Massachusetts and sends a bad message to investors on Wall Street.”

                                                                                                                                                                –PAUL MCMORROW      


The Lowell Sun examines the push to abolish the Governor’s Council.

Gov. Deval Patrick, during an appearance on Face the Nation with three other governors, says he is trying to decide whether to approve the Legislature’s compromise plan on municipal health care reform.

Officials north of Boston welcome movie productions, but the Gloucester Times reports they haven’t figured out a way to quantify their economic impact.

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette carries an AP story examining growing concerns about the power of the House speaker.

The Salem News likes the Republican proposal requiring lobbyists to wear identification badges, noting 10 other states have similar programs in place.

The state’s Civil Service Commission overturns the suspension of a Marblehead police sergeant, calling the disciplinary action “retaliatory and based on pretext,” the Salem News reports. For a broader look at the Civil Service, read CommonWealth’s spring feature.


Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua’s name pops up in the case of a union worker who landed a job he is unqualified for at the Lawrence Municipal Airport. Here’s the original story and the follow-up from the Eagle-Tribune.

A revamped Open Meeting Law in Berkshire County is spawning lots of complaints, the Berkshire Eagle reports.

Taunton Fire Chief Timothy Brashaw closed two fire stations Saturday because of budget cuts and expects continued “brown outs” of the stations because of the new budget that cut overtime by more than half from two years ago.

A Mattapoisett man who has been trying since 2009 to get approval for a two-acre oyster farm in the seaside town will have to wait some more while officials await the final draft of an aquaculture bylaw from the Harbor Advisory Board.

The Enterprise reports the local option meals tax adopted by a number of communities in the region is leaving local diners with a bad taste in their mouths.

Boston tourists go wild for Irish mob movies.


Howie Carr sat down with Keller@Large to talk about his fear that Whitey Bulger would follow through on his threats against the Boston Herald columnist in the 1980s and said he hears the FBI is looking at whether it is just a coincidence that a number of Southie residents have relatives in Santa Monica, Bulger’s home the past 15 or so years. The Globe’s Frank Phillips looks at the tangled web of power that Whitey Bulger and his politician brother William operated from. The story casts considerable doubt on the popularized storyline of two brothers going very different — and separate — ways. Peter Lucas, writing in the Lowell Sun, says William Bulger should have offered to pay for his brother Whitey’s defense. The Salem News, in an editorial, says Whitey’s taxpayer-funded defense is hard to swallow.


Is federal spending really out of control? Talking Points Memo runs the numbers.

A speakers bureau run by the National Coalition for the Homeless is trying to change the image of homeless people, WBUR reports.
WBUR’s Here & Now explores why the nation’s national parks fail to attract people of color.

In the National Review, John S. Baker says the suggestion from Obama administration officials that the president has the power to raise the debt ceiling if lawmakers don’t is not supported by the Constitution because only Congress can authorize new borrowing. Bill Clinton tells Barack Obama to hold his ground on the debt ceiling.

The Boston Herald reports on Elizabeth Warren’s role in a 2008 asbestos case.

The Atlantic looks at the nation’s debt burden over time, and breaks it down by the amount owed by each American from 1918 to 2010.


The Washington Post examines the shadow campaign of 2012, in which a new breed of super PACs and other independent groups are poised to spend more money than ever trying to sway federal elections. Sort of leading the charge: Stephen Colbert’s newly-formed SuperPAC, which can accept unlimited donations from Colbert’s corporate parent, Viacom, so long as ads air within the comedian’s time slot.

William Kristol posits in the Weekly Standard that Hilary Clinton’s announcement she would step down next year opens the door for Joe Biden to replace her as Secretary of State and allow President Obama to choose a new running mate, possibly New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. New York magazine wonders aloud about Cuomo’s political ambition. But Frank Rich says that if Obama doesn’t start beating up on fat cats of various stripes, his choice of running mate won’t matter.

The Globe profiles Rufus Gifford, son of former Boston banking honcho Chad Gifford, who is heading up President Obama’s reelection fundraising effort.

Congressional Republican freshmen, who stormed into office by sweeping GOP primaries, get primary challengers of their own.


Bank branches are disappearing across the country, including in Massachusetts, reports the Globe.

Another company defects from Cambridge to the Boston waterfront, reports the Boston Business Journal.

The New York Times Company sells a portion its minority stake in the parent company of the Red Sox. Forbes says the Times Co. didn’t get a strong price for the stake.


More than half of the teachers pushed out of Boston’s lowest-performing schools under a new turnaround strategy have landed positions at other schools with marginal performance records.


Boston is named fifth in the nation for environmental sustainability, reports Banker and Tradesman.

Rhode Island’s Supreme Court gives its blessing to National Grid’s agreement to purchase power from an offshore wind farm. Two companies had challenged the deal because of the project’s above-market cost.


Randolph police have issued a warrant for a Providence woman who allegedly sped through the town’s Independence Day parade on Sunday, narrowly missing several marchers, before leading police on a 35-mile chase that ended in a crash and her hospitalization just over the Rhode Island border.

A bloody weekend on Boston’s streets.