By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reasons not to support the merger between Avista Utilities and Canada-based Hydro One dominated the Idaho Public Utility Commission’s public hearing Wednesday evening.
PUC commissioners Paul Kjellander and Eric Anderson heard testimony from about two dozen citizens, primarily local Avista customers, all but one speaking against the $5.2 billion deal between Avista and Hydro One.
“I find it ludicrous that we are letting a foreign company buy any part of America’s infrastructure,” said Priest River man Lewis Hodge, voicing a sentiment that echoed throughout the hearing. “It smells like climate change coming in the back door.”
While the utility companies are touting the merger to benefit ratepayers, lower coal dependency and boost renewable energy investments, naysayers want to avoid foreign involvement, oppose the emphasis of green energy, foresee rate hikes and fear decision making without local influence.
The tentative terms of the agreement include $15.8 million over five years of rate credits for Avista customers (amounting to about $1.38 per monthly bill) and $5 million for green energy and low-income programs. The possible deal also includes an accelerated depreciation of Avista’s partial ownership of Montana’s Colstrip coal-fired energy plant, with $3 million going toward a transition fund for Colstrip employees. The facility would be scheduled for shutdown in 2027.
“It moves the power of the citizens further away,” said Rep. Heather Scott, resident of Blanchard and Avista customer. She told the commissioners the emphasis on fossil fuel alternatives concerns her. “I don’t know how you won’t raise rates when there’s all this money being spent on agendas.”
Jane Fritz spoke in favor of the merger, noting that if everyone took a “conservationist” approach to energy, the fear of rate hikes may not be so prominent. She shared her belief in climate change, admiration for Canada, positive relationship with Avista and acknowledged that the Pacific Northwest enjoys some of the cheapest power in the county.
“But we’ve borrowed against future generations to get it,” she said.
Thomas Fletcher of Careywood took to metaphor in giving the commissioners his opposing testimony. He said he was troubled by a recent article he read by an economist arguing that the United States’ trade deficits could be balanced out by foreign countries purchasing American assets. Fletcher said he sees Hydro One taking on Avista as a subsidiary as an example of such a sale.
“When a museum is lacking funds, they sell assets —they sell pieces of art. It’s sad,” he said. “Slowly but surely, the museum ceases to exist. I strongly urge you to consider the long-term effects of selling our assets.”
Of the nearly 300 comments publicly posted on the PUC’s website as of June 13, only about 20 approve of the merger. Most reference lack of local control as their reason for opposition.
To see all documents and public comments pertaining to the possible merger, visit www.puc.idaho.gov and look under the File Room tab for Electrical Case AVUE1709.