One of Northern Pass’s sister companies, the Massachusetts natural gas subsidiary of parent company Eversource Energy, may have manipulated the natural gas market, driving up the cost of electricity and natural gas to consumers in New Hampshire and other New England states by $3.6 billion over three years, according to a study by university researchers for the Environmental Defense Fund.
The study revealed that Eversource and another Massachusetts natural gas distribution utility routinely placed large orders for natural gas and then cancelled orders at the end of the day, too late for other companies to buy the excess natural gas, thereby artificially limiting supply and driving up prices.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is reviewing the study, which her office called "concerning."
Naturally one of the many Eversource spokesmen calls the Environmental Defense Fund study a "complete fabrication" but Eversource did not dispute the finding that its subsidiary routinely reserves more natural gas than it needs and then cancels orders at the last minute.
It’s difficult to untangle the web of Eversource subsidiaries. The one that is the subject of the Environmental Defense Fund study is NSTAR Gas Company d.b.a. Eversource Energy. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Yankee Energy System, Inc., which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Eversource Energy, the parent holding company.
It’s confusing. In New Hampshire we have Public Service Company of New Hampshire d.b.a. Eversource, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Eversource Energy, the holding company. We also have its sister, Northern Pass Transmission LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Eversource Energy Transmission Ventures, which in turn is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Eversource Energy, the holding company. Then there’s Renewable Properties, Inc., which owns real estate in New Hampshire needed for Northern Pass and is another wholly-owned subsidiary of Eversource Energy Transmission Ventures.
This tangled web presents possible conflicts of interest. As discussed in a previous blog, Northern Pass is one of the companies bidding on a RFP for wind and hydro power issued by the electric utilities in Massachusetts, including Western Massachusetts Electric Company d.b.a. Eversource, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Eversource Energy, the parent company. This Massachusetts Eversource subsidiary has 45 percent of the votes on the team evaluating the competing bids, but Northern Pass’s bid says we needn’t worry about the conflict of interest because “Eversource Energy has established separate teams for bidding and evaluation. Each person involved with either team receives a copy of the Utility Standard of Conduct….”
Meanwhile, the Northern Pass route relies on leasing rights of way from its sister PSNH d.b.a. Eversource. The New Hampshire legislature passed legislation in 2012 making it crystal clear that Northern Pass cannot take property by eminent domain. But PSNH d.b.a. Eversource can, and the rights of way it wants to lease to Northern Pass were acquired through eminent domain and easements purchased decades ago from people who wanted to help their neighbors get electricity. There’s no question that PSNH d.b.a. Eversource would never lease these rights of way to a company that was not a subsidiary of Eversource. Indeed, some people believe Eversource Energy purchased the bankrupt PSNH 25 years ago with the goal of one day using its rights of way to build a high-voltage transmission line to bring hydro power from Canada to New England.
All of this raises the question of who will protect consumers from the tangled web Eversource continues to weave?