Power authority examines dam purchase

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(Host) The company that owns a series of power dams on the Connecticut River has filed for bankruptcy. A new state power authority is examining whether it makes sense for Vermont to buy the dams. The authority’s chairman says he wants the state to be represented in bankruptcy court.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The bankruptcy was expected. PG&E National Energy Group, the parent company of the firm that owns the Connecticut River dams, has defaulted on about $3 billion in loans. Vermont Administration Secretary Michael Smith says the only surprise was that the company waited until this week to seek protection from creditors.

Smith chairs the Vermont Renewable Energy Acquisition Authority. The state board was set up by the Legislature to decide if Vermont should buy the six Connecticut River dams. Smith says he’s asked the state Department of Public Service, which represents utility ratepayers, to intervene in the bankruptcy case.

(Smith) “That simply means that the Public Service Department will be able to follow all of the filings, as well as any of the latest information that goes through the bankruptcy court.”

(Dillon) Smith says bankruptcy can make the sale process more complicated, since the deal would have to be approved by both PG&E and the bankruptcy court.

(Smith) “It also provides some opportunities for us as well, in that we can see anything that is transpiring in terms of other sorts of activity, of other people that are interested in these dams. Or if PG&E is actually interested in breaking up the assets.”

(Dillon) PG&E had wanted to sell all of its New England properties together. They include the six dams on the Connecticut, other facilities on the Deerfield River in Vermont and Massachusetts and four power plants in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Smith says it would be better if the state could bid on only the Connecticut River and the two Vermont Deerfield River dams.

One public power advocate sees the bankruptcy as a potentially positive development. State Senator Vince Illuzzi (R-Essex-Orleans) is a member of the renewable power authority.

(Illuzzi) “I think one piece of good news that comes from this bankruptcy filing is that you have a creditors committee, probably investment bankers and financial institutions that don’t want to own and operate hydroelectric generating assets.”

(Dillon) But Illuzzi says the bankruptcy court will want to sell the dams to the highest bidder, and that Vermont may face competition from companies that want to buy the properties.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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