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Eric Cotton

New model, many questions

Wallingford Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. successfully campaigned on the town’s low electric rates again this past November, but with one notable wrinkle.

He cited his support for an upcoming change in the way the municipal Electric Division purchases power as proof that he’s open to modernization (despite the lack of basic technology at Town Hall) while pledging to continue keeping rates low.

But questions arose last week about the decision to leave the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative after nearly 20 years and to begin buying power on the wholesale market under a new model. The Public Utilities Commission is requesting a budget amendment for $255,000 to pay legal fees related to the switch, though officials won’t say what’s at issue. The Town Council is scheduled to take up the request at its meeting Tuesday, but will likely hold much of the meeting behind closed doors, because it involves legal strategy. That’s allowed under the Freedom of Information Act, but it would be nice if officials could give residents a hint as to what’s going on considering the amount of money being requested and the potential impact costly litigation could have on electric rates. Several councilors said last week they understood the need for transparency and would be asking as many questions during the public session as possible, which is good.

Meanwhile, the CEO of the energy cooperative that Wallingford is leaving told a Record-Journal reporter last week he was confused as to why the town would pursue the new purchasing model with a different company, Energy New England, when the co-op also bid on the contract and offered favorable terms. He says the co-op is fully capable of purchasing power under the wholesale model. He’s been trying to get an explanation, he said, but hasn’t heard back from local officials.

Come to think of it, the public has never received a full accounting of that decision either, only assurances from the mayor and the PUC that the move is in the town’s best interests.

Public Utilities Director George Adair said last week he would be holding a public input session on Jan. 6 at the mayor’s request in response to numerous questions about the new power agreement. More information is warranted, particularly if the town is about to enter into a legal battle over assets with its former partner, which is what it sounds like based on comments from the co-op official and the PUC’s request for so much money to pay legal fees alone.

But why is the information coming after the fact?

The commission approved the change last spring and the switch to the new model is scheduled for Jan. 1. Shouldn’t the PUC and the mayor have gathered public input before making a decision that will affect the electric rates of every customer in town?

Wallingford shares a number of assets with the energy cooperative under contracts the co-op official claims the town doesn’t fully understand. He also claims the local utilities director exagerrated the fees Wallingford was paying to the co-op under the current model. Let’s hope that’s not true and that the PUC did its due diligence.

There’s certainly a lot at stake.

Reach Managing Editor/News Eric Cotton at (203) 317-2344 or ecotton@record-journal.com. Follow him on Twitter @ecotton3.



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