CONCORD, New Hampshire — A recommendation this month to delay selling off 12 power plants in New Hampshire faces more scrutiny before a final decision can be made, policymakers and regulators said Friday.
The Public Utilities Commission staff recommendation runs counter to a staff finding last year and surprised supporters of a deal announced in March between Eversource and 14 other stakeholders. Supporters of the deal said selling Eversource's nine hydro and three fossil fuel plants would save ratepayers $378 million and remove the threat of lengthy litigation.
Sen. Jeb Bradley, who helped negotiate the deal, said Friday he was shocked when staff at the PUC said the divestiture plan could actually cost ratepayers $677 million and would unfairly burden residential customers while sparing businesses.
The staff recommended stalling the sale for five years.
"I don't get it," Bradley said. "I think when all is said and done, the fact that we've generated the kind of savings we have projected will bear out."
Tom Frantz, director of the PUC's electric division and one of the parties who signed onto the March deal, said he was still reviewing the staff's recommendations to see what data was analyzed to come to this latest conclusion. He was not involved in the staff review and learned of its results this week.
"The outcome may have surprised some people but they did what they're supposed to do," Frantz said. "They analyzed the information in the record and came to their conclusions."
The staff that issued the Sept. 18 report is different from the staff that recommended divestiture in 2014.
Alexander Speidel, an attorney for the PUC staff, said the staff members took into account changes in the power market since the initial recommendation was made, including constraints on the natural gas supply and higher winter costs.
A statement from Eversource said the new recommendation "appears to contain a significant number of erroneous assumptions."
"While we anticipate challenging portions of staff testimony, we note that this is only the middle of the process," the statement said.
Frantz said the next steps include a review of all the testimony followed by a technical session in late October. There could be rebuttal testimony and potentially more settlement discussions before formal hearings in November. A final decision by the three-member PUC had been expected by the end of December, and legal challenges could follow.
"It's a very important and somewhat complicated proceeding to work through, but the commission is more than capable of working through it," Frantz said.