Multiple organizations request new public comment period after lengthy Hydro One statement

AEL&P’s prospective new owner filed 444-page response to local criticism

Mayo Schmidt, President and CEO of Hydro One Limited, center, gives an overview of the Ontario-based electric utility as Scott Morris, Avista Chairman, President and CEO, left, and Dennis Vermillion, Senior Vice President of Avista Corp. and President of Avista Utilities, listen during a public meeting with leadership from Hydro One, Avista and AEL&P at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

This Monday night, Hydro One and Avista Corp. issued a joint reply to the dozens of comments that Juneau residents have made in reference to Hydro One’s intention to buy Avista — the parent company of Juneau’s electric utility, Alaska Electric Light &Power.

 

The response was 84 pages long with an additional 360 pages of exhibits and previous cases, numbering 444 total pages. While some have found it to be enlightening, others have questioned the fairness and timing of the response.

The joint response was filed a month and a half after the Regulatory Commission of Alaska’s (RCA) public comment period closed, and the Alaska Independent Power Producers Association (AIPPA) on Thursday requested either another comment period or that the RCA provides an on-the-record meeting regarding Hydro One’s application to acquire Avista.

Those interested in finding the filing can go to www.rca.alaska.gov, go to the “quick search” option under the “RCA Library” tab and search for docket U-17-097. The response is then listed under the “Documents” tab.

Teresa B. Clemmer, a senior attorney at Bessenyey &Van Tuyn LLC representing AIPPA, wrote a two-page response to the Hydro One and Avista filing.

“The public should be given additional opportunities for public comment, briefing and/or testimony,” Clemmer wrote, “so that they will have a sufficient opportunity to respond to the information contained in the applicants’ belated 444-page submission.”

Hydro One announced its intention in July 2017 to purchase Avista, which has owned AEL&P since 2013. The RCA is currently reviewing the sale, and received 100 comments during its public comment period that ended Dec. 21, 2017.

Many of the comments expressed concern about electric rates rising, but the larger concern has been about the future of the Snettisham hydroelectric project. Snettisham is currently owned by the federal government but could transfer to AEL&P in 2034. Many want to see Snettisham stay out of Hydro One’s hands.

Hydro One and Avista’s response stated that Hydro One is not interested in “taking over” any local assets, and it also stated that Hydro One is planning on giving a $1 million rate credit over a 10-year span to Juneau customers.

On page eight of the response, Hydro One labeled some of the public comments as having “anti-Canada” sentiments (Hydro One is 47 percent owned by the Ontario government) and called out one commenter for spreading “misinformation that is reflected in many of the comments.”

That commenter, Duff Mitchell, is the managing director of Juneau Hydropower, Inc. (JHI). JHI has been working with AEL&P in recent years to use local resources for its own electric and heating projects. Mitchell has been vocal in his concerns about Hydro One’s purchase of Avista and the effect it could have both on Juneau and on JHI.

JHI’s attorney Elisabeth H. Ross, from Birch, Horton, Bittner &Cherot Attorneys at Law, made a similar request to the RCA that AIPPA made. Ross asked that Hydro One’s response either be stricken from the record or that a new 45-day comment period be instituted.

On Monday, Juneau city officials voted to pursue becoming “interveners” in the sale, meaning that the city will seek to have an attorney represent its interests in the RCA’s process. City Manager Rorie Watt said he found the 84-page response section to have some interesting information and encouraged people interested in the sale to read the response. He said it isn’t a quick read, but people can benefit from reading it.

“We live in a Twitter age,” Watt said. “I don’t think you can sum this (issue) up in 140 characters.”


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or alex.mccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


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