About that $255,000

Wallingford’s Electric Division is asking the Town Council for $255,000 to cover unanticipated legal expenses, and the public has a right to know why. The money would pay for outside counsel in what appears to be a developing dispute with the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative, which has been supplying its power since 1994. That arrangement will end on Jan. 1, when Energy New England is scheduled to take over from the co-op.

Not much information has been revealed so far, and not much more will likely come out of today’s Town Council meeting, because state law allows towns to conduct business behind closed doors for certain reasons — such as when “strategy and negotiations with respect to the pending litigation relating to the Public Utilities Commission’s consideration of action to enforce or implement legal relief or legal rights relating to its CMEEC agreements” are on the agenda — and this is one of those times.

More answers should be forthcoming during the Jan. 6 Town Council meeting, at the request of Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., but that’s a long way off.

Meanwhile, there will be an executive session of the Town Council today, before the open session, and several councilors have said they plan to ask some questions in the open session in order to keep the public informed, but they don’t want to tip the town’s hand in case the disagreement does come down to litigation.

Not that a court battle is a foregone conclusion — no action has been taken yet — but there seems to be a dispute between the Electric Division and the co-op over which entity owns certain “transmission assets” that have been bringing the Division about $800,000 a year from ISO New England, the operator of the regional electric grid. The executives of the co-op seem to believe those assets belong to it, so “pending litigation” is the operative term here.

There’s no doubt that $800,000 is a lot of money, but then, so is the $255,000 that would go to a Washington, D.C., law firm that specializes in representing municipal electric companies. Thus, certain questions almost ask themselves.

From a practical standpoint, Wallingford taxpayers will want to know whether the town is going to have to spend $255,000 just once, in order to save $800,000 per year, or if that initial $255,000 is just the beginning of the costs; and whether the town may invest $255,000 or more, only to lose that $800,000 per year anyway; and whether the Electric Division’s managers knew, when they decided to find a new power supplier, that ownership of those “transmission assets” might be in question; and whether the pertinent documents were diligently examined before the decision was taken; and whether a legal opinion was sought.

And, from a political angle, people may wonder why this whole issue seems to have emerged, out of the blue, barely a week after the recent election.

As Public Utilities Director George Adair said, this is “important stuff.”



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