DPU-Eversource communications probed
Email raises questions about improper pipeline discussions
THE MASSACHUSETTS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC UTILITIES is investigating whether one of its employees had improper communication with an attorney for Eversource Energy, which is seeking state approval to assess its electricity customers for the money to finance a new natural gas pipeline into the region.
The issue first surfaced last week when Kevin Conroy, an attorney at Foley Hoag LLP who is representing NextEra Energy Resources in the pipeline proceeding, notified DPU officials that he and a colleague had each received an email from an Eversource attorney with an email string attached “that is logically read as indicating that improper ex parte communications may have occurred.” Conroy asked the DPU to investigate.
In a memo issued Monday, DPU hearing officer Laura Koepnick postponed hearings planned for this week on the pipeline proposal and ordered an investigation. “While the statement at issue could mean a number of things, a reasonable reading of the statement supports the conclusion that further investigation is warranted into whether an improper communication may have occurred between Eversource or its agents and a member of the department or someone with knowledge of the investigation.”
Documents on file with the DPU don’t include the email string, so it’s unclear what type of ex parte communication might have occurred. Eversource claims the email string is privileged information and shouldn’t be released to the public. Koepnick said she would rule on that issue later this week.
Eversource filed affidavits with the DPU from Cheryl Kimball and Danielle Winter, both partners at the law firm of Keegan Werlin. Kimball sent the original email to Conroy. Winter, in her affidavit, denies engaging in any ex parte communication with DPU officials.
Caroline Pretyman, a spokeswoman for Eversource, said in a statement “that this false claim is a delay tactic by a multistate generating company whose financial interests are directly threatened by our proposal to lower electric costs for Massachusetts electric customers.”
The proposal before the DPU would allow Eversource and National Grid to assess their electricity customers for the money to purchase natural gas pipeline capacity, which would effectively finance a new pipeline to the region. The utilities say a pipeline delivering cheap gas would drive down electricity prices, particularly in the winter, and save electricity customers more money than they would spend financing the pipeline.The novel pipeline financing approach, favored by the Baker administration, is facing pushback. The Supreme Judicial Court is expected to rule shortly in a case challenging the DPU’s view that state law allows electric ratepayers to be charged for a natural gas pipeline. That case was brought by the Conservation Law Foundation. The Senate has also included in its energy legislation a provision barring electric ratepayers from being charged for natural gas pipeline capacity.
NextEra Energy owns the nuclear power plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire, and other facilities that generate electricity. The company is opposed to any measure that would tap electric ratepayers to finance a natural gas pipeline.