CONCORD -- ECHO Action was present at the Public Utilities Commission pre-hearing for docket DG-17-198 on Friday, after writing a letter to the commission requesting that all of the redacted information in Liberty Utilities' documents on the Granite Bridge Pipeline be disclosed (below).
Every seat in the room was warm. To the left, those responding to Liberty Utilities' pipeline proposal. To the right, industry representatives from various utilities. Lining the back wall were members of the public.
There was a full room for the pre-hearing of the Liberty Utilities Granite Bridge Pipeline project. Liberty's Keene gas franchise pre-hearing was held earlier the same morning.
Liberty Utilities' attorney was in the hottest seat as he faced NH Consumer Advocate D. Maurice Kreis, Conservation Law Foundation, attorney Richard Kanoff representing PLAN-NE, attorney Richard Husband, representing Keene City Councilor Terry Clark, and a lineup of pipeline opponents.
The Consumer Advocate praised citizens and organizations who sent letters to him and the PUC demanding the redacted information Liberty Utilities is withholding from the public. Nothing Liberty Utilities had to say got past Kreis. His responses to Liberty Utilities were sharp, and his focus, on the rights of Granite Staters. He expressed concern about Liberty's insistence of a need to protect their privacy, denying citizens full access to their filings.
"This is a proceeding in which this company is proposing to more than double the size of its rate base and it has made a broad and sweeping claim of confidentiality...That in itself warrants extreme skeptical scrutiny of the company's allegations here."
Kreis went on to say that the filing, the docket, are a very big deal and the reason for a room full of intervenors and potential intervenors, adding, "This is a matter of major public policy concern to this state."
"The law of RSA 91A, meaning the case law of the NH Supreme Court requires the commission to undertake the balancing test that weighs the public's interest disclosure against whatever privacy interests the company [Liberty Utilities] has asserted...the data should be publicly disclosed."
Liberty Utilities' was represented by Ronald J. Ritchie. Primary legal counsel, Michael J. Sheehan was not present. The public shifted uneasily in their seats at Ritchie's request for a final hearing in a mere 2 months and an order by late summer. He expressed concern that the contract with their suppliers would expire and that ratepayers would suffer.
The Consumer Advocate said they should know not to rush to advanced approval, considering their participation in the Kinder Morgan Northeast Energy Direct (NED) pipeline project, and the lengthy timeline involved.
The three-member commission was down one member as Chairman Martin Honigberg was absent due to a family emergency. Commissioner Kathryn Bailey presided and asked Ritchie if he could renegotiate the contract if needed. Ritchie conceded that he could. A November date was discussed, but no schedule was confirmed.
Kreis hammered at the length of contract stating that instead of 20 years, it should be for 10 or even 5 years, and expressed concern for the company's lack of experience in a project of this magnitude.
He informed the room that "RSA 91A is a disclosure statute. It is not a privacy statute" and that its purpose is "to give the public the opportunity to scrutinize what the government is up to."
Epping resident Mark Vallone asked the PUC commissioners how he was supposed to file as an intervenor when the deadline to apply had passed and he had just learned about the opportunity to participate. Commissioner Bailey explained that they often consider intervenors beyond the deadline.
ECHO Action's Stephanie Scherr, Rindge resident and frequent PUC attendee, Patricia Martin, Epping resident Mark Vallone and 350 NH's Griffin Sinclair-Wingate all testified in opposition to the pipeline project citing overbuild, health, safety and climate concerns.
Vallone mentioned that there is a Superfund site in the area and listed projects that had been proposed over the years including a trash to energy project and a tire-burning facility, that had all been defeated.
Scherr noted that Liberty has been aggressively seeking gas contracts throughout the state and that projects in Concord, Lebanon, Hanover, Pelham, Windham, Keene and now the pipeline from Manchester to the seacoast suggested segmentation with intent to connect them and export to foreign markets, the intent of the Kinder Morgan NED pipeline that was withdrawn due to lack of contracts.
Ritchie accused Conservation Law Foundation of being present as an opponent on environmental grounds. CLF staff attorney, Melissa Birchard detailed concerns about the excessive gas capacity and long-term impacts. She said she took offense to the suggestion that CLF was a Massachusetts-based firm and reminded Ritchie that she and the CLF New Hampshire Director, Tom Irwin, are residents of the state.
City Councilor Clark and attorney Richard Husband attended a pre-hearing at the PUC immediately prior to the Granite Bridge docket, involving Liberty's gas franchise in Keene. The Consumer Advocate suggested that the dockets for Liberty's projects should be combined.
Liberty's legal counsel, Ritchie, repeatedly conveyed concern that other utilities in the room were there as competitors, not to provide technical information, as they claimed.
Respol Energy North America Corp, a competitor of Liberty, opposes the LNG facility, but not the pipeline. ENGIE stated they were present to protect their trade secrets and confidential information in Liberty's filings. Richard Kanoff, an attorney known for his work on energy and clean technology cases, represented PLAN-NE as an intervenor. Representatives from the Manchester, Nashua and Concord Chambers of Commerce, in favor of the project, are intervenors, but did not appear to be present.
The Commission suggested that Liberty should consider their redactions more carefully. They initially stated they would make a decision by the end of March, but by the meeting's end said they took requests for disclosure of the redacted information "under advisement", meaning the Commission will rule on it, but did not give a firm date.
ECHO Action's letter to the PUC requested the disclosure of all redacted documents filed by Liberty Utilities.