Juneau residents were able to voice their concerns, ask questions and air grievances about the potential sale of Avista Corp. (parent company of Juneau’s Alaska Electric Light and Power) to Canadian-owned Hydro One Limited during a Regulatory Commission of Alaska special public conference/panel discussion in a packed ballroom at Centennial Hall Tuesday night.
The open forum format in front of the RCA allowed the community to comment for more than hour before a panel consisting of Connie Hulbert, President and General Manager of AEL&P; Dennis Vermillion, President of Avista; Ferio Pugliese, Hydro One Vice President of Customer Care and Corporate Affairs; and James Scarlett, Vice President and Chief Legal Officer of Hydro One.
Danielle Redmond, a resident of Juneau, stated her concern of having a large corporation taking over an Alaska business. She used the Exxon Valdez oil spill and Tulsequah Chief Mine cleanup as examples of false promises. Redmond also was not swayed by Tuesday’s speakers.
“This seems like an all-too Alaska story where a major corporation comes and says one thing and does another,” Redmond said in an interview after the forum. “It needs to be established in writing that AEL&P will be in charge even decades from now. Nothing from (Tuesday) has changed my mind on (Hydro One).”
The Snettisham Hydroelectric Project, although asked to not be discussed by RCA last week, was still a point of interest. Gretchen Keiser, a Juneau resident, stated she wanted more certainty over the Snettisham assets.
“Snettisham is the crown jewel of Juneau, and we should know what will happen to the assets,” Keiser said. “It will help to know more now than to be under a cloud (in the future). I do not find Hydro One fit, willing and able to own Snettisham under AEL&P.”
The panel echoed the remarks made by AEL&P that the company will not purchase the hydro electric utility unless it benefits its ratepayers. The panel informed the community Tuesday that only AEL&P will have the final say of how to handle a deal with Snettisham.
“People of Juneau should not have any concerns about Snettisham,” Scarlett said, responding to concerns. “This is a matter that AEL&P will deal with, and they will not do anything that will not be a benefit to Juneau.”
Nearly 20 people spoke and comments circled around how much control Hydro One would have over Avista and AEL&P.
According to the panel, AEL&P will still be locally run and operated just like it is now under Avista. It will keep its current employees and will act just like it does by handling its normal day-to-day business as Juneau’s enegery resource.
“Business will continue to run at AEL&P the way it does now,” Scarlett said. “The deals will stay in place.”
Support for the sale was given when former AEL&P President and owner, Bill Corbus, who was unable to attend Tuesday’s forum, had a statement read by Neil MacKinnon. The statement reiterated Hydro One’s statement that AEL&P would still be in control of its entity in Juneau.
“AEL&P will be fit, willing and able, and nothing will change (with the purchase),” Corbus stated.
Tim McCloud, former General Manager at AEL&P, also voiced a positive reaction to the sale.
“Customers will not know the difference down the road,” McCloud said. “With this merger AEL&P will still be under the RCA, and all the regulations to protect customers will still be in place. This will be very successful and will have very low impact to the people of Juneau.”
Hulbert wanted customers to know that there will be no allocated costs pushed down to the customer associated with this purchase.
“Our rates will be based on what we pay, just like they are now,” Hulbert said. “Costs will not be impacted. RCA has the final say on rates. Hydro One has governance documents that Avista will operate the way they do now. Avista will have a board comprised of existing Avista members, plus three Pacific Northwest members and two Hydro One managers. AEL&P rates have to be approved by RCA based on our costs. Avista is not allocating any overheads to us. Even if Hydro One imposed costs to Avista, those will not affect us.”
Hulbert explained that any rate changes have to go through a rigorous process before anything can actually be done.
“Rate filing is a legal trial,” she said. “So the utility will have to file for a rate request. These filings are highly scrutinized.”
Vermillion also stated Avista’s case for being a part of this purchase. Vermillion said Avista wanted to get ahead of the curve by proactively searching for a company to partner with to be in a position of strength. Avista chose Hydro One to expand its impact and because it wanted to have a say in ownership and to avoid having ownership not of their choosing.
“The industry has been consolidating over the last 20 years,” he said during the forum. “So when we became familiar with Hydro One, it became intriguing to partner with someone on this scale in rapidly increasing industry.”
The public discussion comes on the heels of the City and Borough of Juneau’s Assembly unanimously approving the appropriation of $75,000 as means to fund costs, through the general fund account, to act as an “intervener” in the sale, as voted on during a Special Assembly meeting Monday. There is no guarantee the CBJ will be able to intervene, but a petition to intervene has been sent to the RCA for consideration.
Juneau is not the first city Hydro One has heard a community response from. Pugliese said Idaho, Montana and Oregon residents also raised similar concerns.
“We understand that places have their concerns because we are outsiders,” he said during a meeting with the Juneau Empire Editorial Board Tuesday. “They don’t know us and we respect the fact they do not know who we are. Judge us by what we do.”
• Contact reporter Gregory Philson at email@example.com or call at 523-2265. Follow him on Twitter at @GTPhilson.