WALLINGFORD — The Public Utilities Commission voted 3-0 Tuesday to transfer an additional $168,000 to cover anticipated legal fees in the town electric division’s dispute with the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative.
The mid-year transfer will cover estimated legal, consultant and arbitrator fees through June 30, 2018, said Richard Hendershot, Director of Public Utilities.
The $168,000 would be transferred from the electric division’s operating accounts for salaries and employee pension accounts. Those accounts have leftover money as a result of some vacancies this year, Hendershot said. The proposed budget transfer still needs Town Council approval.
If the transfer is spent in full, it would bring the total cost of the legal dispute with CMEEC up to about $2.75 million. Through December 2017, the town spent about $2.6 million in the dispute, according to figures provided by Hendershot.
Wallingford entered the legal dispute with CMEEC, the town's former energy supplier, in 2013 because it claims the cooperative is overcharging the town through agreements the two sides have for shared projects. Those agreements run through at least 2021.When the arbitration began, the electric division and its legal team determined "approximately $18 million in actionable costs (overcharges) over the next ten years," Hendershot said.
Hendershot expects the legal dispute to conclude prior to the end of the fiscal year ending June 30.
“Not as early as I did maybe a couple months ago, but I do expect it’ll be completed by the end of June,” Hendershot said Tuesday.
A trial was held for the arbitration last summer and both sides have since filed post-trial briefs.
The town and CMEEC have had settlement talks in recent months, PUC chairman Bob Beaumont said during the meeting Tuesday.
If the arbitration carries into the next fiscal year, the electric division has included $125,000 in its 2018-19 budget for legal fees as a precaution, Hendershot said.
The legal costs expended by Wallingford this fiscal year have been impacted by a “significant amount of (post-trial) requests for supplemental information from the arbitrator that I don't think anyone had anticipated,” PUC member Patrick Birney said
“There was a substantial amount of work that was done that I don’t think anyone anticipated,” said Birney, who said the work resulted from “the arbitrator wanting to make sure his I’s were dotted and T’s were crossed” before possibly ruling.