Utility seeks legislative fix on issues of power plant future, reimbursement of $422M scrubber

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CONCORD, New Hampshire — The state's largest utility on Friday asked the Public Utilities Commission to pause its review of two key issues until lawmakers try to forge a solution.

Public Service Company of New Hampshire filed a motion asking for a delay in the decision on how much the company should be reimbursed for a $422 million scrubber that went online at its Merrimack Station in 2011 after the state required the technology that aims to reduce pollution.

The company also asked the PUC to hold off on a study to determine the effect continued PSNH ownership of its three fossil fuel plants and nine hydroelectric plants would have on consumers.

In its filing, the company said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican who chairs the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, supports seeking a legislative compromise on the two issues and intends to file a bill addressing them in the coming session. The filing says Bradley believes such a solution will provide benefits to consumers in terms of rates and reliability.

The PUC did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Gov. Maggie Hassan lauded the utility company's efforts to seek a negotiated settlement rather than wage a lengthy legal battle.

"Public Service of New Hampshire is showing a willingness to compromise and participate in efforts to plan for an energy future that is innovative, reliable and affordable," she said.

The company said if the motion is granted, it would keep the PUC updated at intervals determined by the utilities commission. If no legislative compromise is reached, it said it will "expeditiously" ask the commission to restart its reviews.

In April, PUC staff recommended the utility sell its power plants to save customers money. They said that as people look for cheaper energy options, PSNH will eventually have to charge more for power than competitors and pass the higher rates onto a shrinking number of customers who buy their power.

That report said the 12 power plants have a total value of $660 million but would probably get about $225 million on the open market, leaving $435 million in costs to be paid by consumers. Those numbers could change depending on how much the company can get back from the scrubber investment.

Company officials call the company's 12 power plants an insurance policy against wild price increases and say shedding them would only take away the protection but still leave consumers paying for them.

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