Before the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted in 2013 to sever ties with the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative (CMEEC), CMEEC had been supplying Wallingford’s electricity since 1994. A non-profit organization, CMEEC buys power “wholesale” and passes savings on to customers like Wallingford. As a result, Wallingford’s low electric rates and good service has been the subject of civic pride for years, and were Republican talking points in every recent local election.
PUC commissioners have not explained publicly why and when they soured on CMEEC, but in 2010, the director of Wallingford’s public utilities began researching other options for the town.
In 2012, as a long-term contract with CMEEC was expiring, the PUC sought proposals for different power supply arrangements. In addition to a “full requirements” contract that provided for important but collateral services — this was the arrangement the town had with CMEEC for years, the PUC decided it also wanted to explore other options that involved fewer services at less cost.
The most economical option was an agent/consultant who would buy power on behalf of the town from suppliers such as power plants.
The PUC solicited proposals, therefore, not only for “full requirements” contracts, but also for “agency” arrangements as well. Energy New England (ENE), one of the companies that responded, answered with an attractive “agency” model proposal. CMEEC responded, too. It proposed three alternatives for a power supply contract.
One was the “agency” model and another was the “full requirements” model, which was similar to Wallingford’s existing power supply agreement. CMEEC’s price for its “agency” model was slightly cheaper than ENE’s “agency” model, and of course, its “full requirements” plan was more expensive.
The PUC, however, for its own reasons beyond the scope of this column, didn’t want an agency relationship with CMEEC. But it needed an easy-to-understand rationale for rejecting CMEEC and selecting ENE. To make its case for ENE, it chose to compare costs for an “agency” contract with ENE, with the costs for a “full requirements” contract with CMEEC, without disclosing what it was doing. That’s like comparing airlines based upon the cost of a first-class ticket on one, to an economy coach ticket on another.
During 3 executive sessions with the council and an open meeting on May 14, 2013, the PUC compared CMEEC’s more costly “full requirements” contract to ENE’s “agency” model. It never discussed CMEEC’s competitive “agency” proposal, and that made the choice for ENE seem obvious to the unsuspecting council and the trusting public.
These circumstances became too much for CMEEC to bear, however. On November 6, 2013, CMEEC asked the PUC to help correct “misinformation” published on 2 occasions in this paper. According to CMEEC, the source of the “misinformation” were statements made by representatives of the PUC that put in a false light not only CMEEC’s past costs, but also its recent proposal for a “agency” agreement.
CMEEC alleged that the PUC invited a false comparison between $2,000,000, which is what that the PUC claimed (disputed by CMEEC) were past annual costs paid to CMEEC under the expiring “full requirements” agreement, and $600,000, the sum the PUC would pay if it hired ENE pursuant to a new “agency” arrangement.
It said that this was an “inequitable comparison” of two “vastly different contract types relative to costs of services . . . ” The PUC, in its reply, conceded that the cost comparison between a new “agency” contract and the expiring “full requirements” contract was “somewhat inaccurate.” It had no interest in setting the record straight, however, even though the public was probably misled. That’s the status to this day.
Does this matter? Suppose, for the sake of argument, the PUC’s recommendation for ENE was defensible but its tactics were not.
If you care whether government achieves its agenda by fair and forthcoming means, or instead by any means necessary, it matters. It’s a question of how government ought to behave.
Mike Brodinsky is a former town councilor, chairman of the School Roof Building Committee and host of public access show “Citizen Mike.”