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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Plug pulled on PSNH divestiture effort

CONCORD – House Republican leaders pulled the plug Wednesday on a legislative move that would have forced Public Service of New Hampshire to sell some of its power plants.

Rep. James Garrity, R-Atkinson, short-circuited debate on his proposal, HB 1238, that would have ordered the Public Utilities Commission to determine whether the sale would be in the “economic interest” of PSNH ratepayers. Garrity asked the House to sideline the bill, and the House agreed, 304-19, effectively killing it.

Last week, Garrity scored an bipartisan agreement on divestiture, prompting PSNH CEO Gary Long to call it the most dangerous bill he had seen in 10 years.

Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau and the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce had led a broad coalition of public officials and business leaders who warned this could lead to much higher electric rates and the loss of hundreds of jobs across the state.

Garrity said the bill’s intent was to revive talk about divestiture that had many supporters a decade ago when the Legislature was then opening the retail sale of electricity to competition.

“The primary purpose of us introducing HB 1238 this year was so that we could reopen in public the policy debate of the divestiture of PSNH assets,” Garrity said. “That mission has been accomplished a lot and that discussion will continue.”

Garrity said there are Senate bills that could be used to advance the debate, but supporters of divestiture conceded the House vote effectively ends the threat for 2012.