Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Door Continues to Revolve at the PUC

Former PUC Chair Thomas Getz has moved on to a new job. Guess where.

On April 20, 2012, the Concord NH law firm, Devine Millimet, announced the addition of a new member of counsel: Thomas B. Getz, Esq. Attorney Getz now chairs the firm's energy and regulatory affairs group. Devine Millimet is one of Northern Pass's law firms. Getz's new colleagues include Dana Bisbee, attorney and shareholder, who threatened the Tillotson trustees with litigation for not selling to Northern Pass. Another Devine Millimet attorney and shareholder, Ovide Lamontagne, is also the Republican gubernatorial candidate with a Northern Pass reticence.

A week after his new appointment was announced, Getz was on his way to Washington, D.C., to testify to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources concerning storm outages over the last four years. Based on his experiences in New Hampshire as PUC commissioner and chair from 2008 to 2011, Getz reportedly asserted that utilities have become "more adept at planning for, responding to and recovering from extreme weather events that cause widespread electrical outages." Those who were in the dark for weeks after the Hallowe'en nor'Easter might disagree.

(A month later, May 31, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation found the real culprit for the historic October 2011 outages. The FERC-NERC report blames it on the trees and recommends more aggressive "vegetation management" -- tree cutting -- especially of so-called danger or hazard trees outside utility easements on private land. Call it eminent-domain-by-vegetation-management and expect to see the utilities pushing for the right to cut down trees outside their ROWs to safeguard your electric supply.)

As PUC chair, Getz first attracted the attention of the Northern Pass Opposition when Responsible Energy Action LLC (REAL) discovered that he had taken an official, public position in favor of Northern Pass in a filing with a regional organization. "How on earth could the chairman of the PUC say Northern Pass is a done deal when his agency is going to make critical make-or-break decisions about the project in the future and when . . . there have been no state proceedings or even any state filings involving Northern Pass?" REAL asked.

Getz again came to the attention of Northern Pass opponents during confirmation hearings for a new PUC commissioner, Michael Harrington. Like Harrington, Commissioner Getz had also previously worked for PSNH or an affiliate and received or was eligible for a pension from the same while he regulated them. The PUC brushed it all aside and confirmed Harrington partly on the basis that Getz provided a precedent.

Getz's career trajectory is not uncommon in New Hampshire. Witness Harrington. It's all legal, apparently. But is it right? Does it produce the best energy decisions and policies for the state?

As one Concord Monitor reader commented, New Hampshire's energy regulation and policy-making reeks with "insider stench."

As voters question and consider candidates for every legislative seat, for executive council, and for governor in the coming months, this matter should be front and center. You could start by asking candidates if they would support modernizing the PUC appointment process, as other states have done.