At times the DPS has had a cozy relationship with Entergy. So cozy that in 2010, for example, David O’Brien, DPS Commissioner under pro-nuclear Gov. Jim Douglas, hosted a Christmas party which the VP of Entergy attended. A brouhaha ensued. Just imagine VT Yankee’s history if a truly independent advocate had represented us. Would there have been an uprate? Would there have been a backroom deal about dry casks? After the Senate vote, after years of town meetings, with an independent advocate would Yankee have shut down on March 21, 2012?
Two former DPS “ratepayer advocates” are currently on the 3-member Public Service Board; both served under Jim Douglas. PSB Chair Jim Volz was director of DPS public advocacy for 16 years; Sarah Hoffman was director after he moved to the PSB.
Electric power did not reach Jamaica in Windham County until 1964. People wanted power, and they wanted it cheap. Fifty years later, power is a lot more complicated, and citizens are educated and active in power politics, excited or opposed to technologies, and concerned about impacts on land, water, air and public health. But if we disagree with a position taken by DPS, we do not have a voice unless we have big bucks to pay for our own utility lawyers, after proving we have “intervenor status” at the PSB. DPS always has intervenor status.
There are other models out there. Chris Williams of VCAN and NIRS passed along an innovative idea from Indiana. The Indiana Utility Ratepayer Trust
was established from a settlement over a cancelled nuke project. Groups or individuals who want to participate in cases before the state’s utility regulator, FERC, or the FCC can apply to the trust for funding.
AARP and 350VT are calling for “independent ratepayer advocates.” Below is an email from 350VT which clearly lays out some of the issues in the context of gas pipelines. (Edited: deleted info on Nov 17 hearing date in Shelburne).