February 26, 2013

Testimony of Charlie Higley
Executive Director Citizens Utility Board

Before the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Public Works, and Telecommunications
 

SB 35 Would Reduce Public Disclosure of Proposed Transmission Lines

Good morning Chairman Farrow and members of the committee, and thank you for the opportunity to provide comments of the Citizens Utility Board on SB 35.

The Citizens Utility Board is a member-supported, nonprofit organization that advocates for reliable and affordable utility service. CUB represents the interests of residential, farm, and small business customers of electric, natural gas, telecommunications, and water utilities before the Legislature, regulatory agencies, and the courts.

 

SB 35

CUB is opposed to SB 35 because it would reduce disclosure and the flow of information about proposed transmission lines to communities and landowners potentially affected by the project.

Section 5 would delay when communities and landowners would receive information about proposed transmission lines.  Instead of receiving information when companies apply for permission to build a transmission line from the Public Service Commission, the public would receive information about the transmission line much later in the process.  This would make it more difficult for the public to find out about proposed transmission lines that could affect their homes and businesses.

Section 6 would eliminate the requirement for the project developer to provide a “detailed project plan” to the Department of Natural Resources at least 60 days before the project developer submits an application to build the project with the Public Service Commission.  Though the project developer is still supposed to meet with the DNR to figure out which environmental permits are needed, not having to provide a detailed project plan is another reduction in the flow of information to the public about proposed transmission lines.

Frankly, I don’t really like complaining about legislation.  But here’s a bill that could limit disclosure to the public about transmission lines, and CUB wasn’t given a heads up about this legislation.

We assume the American Transmission Company has requested this bill.  Yet, they never contacted CUB and explained why the bill is needed.  Nor did any of the other utilities that support this bill.

Of course we would be very concerned about changes to public disclosure of utility projects. And CUB wasn’t the only stakeholder left in the dark.  Even several utilities were unaware of this legislation.

In my opinion, much hand wringing and opposition could have been dealt with if ATC took the time to inform stakeholders about the legislation.  Instead, CUB first became aware of the legislation late on Thursday, Feb. 21.  Other stakeholders, too, saw the legislation just late last week.  This is poor behavior by ATC, because it shows no respect for other stakeholders on utility issues.

In my opinion, much hand wringing and opposition could have been dealt with if ATC took the time to inform stakeholders about the legislation.  Instead, CUB first became aware of the legislation late on Thursday, Feb. 21.  Other stakeholders, too, saw the legislation just late last week.  This is poor behavior by ATC, because it shows no respect for other stakeholders on utility issues.

Mr. Chairman, this also increases the burden on you and members of your committee—why should you have to deal with grumpy stakeholders when ATC could have informed them about the purpose of the legislation?

Second, all of our concerns were heightened when we learned that this committee will vote on the legislation on Thursday, Feb. 28, two days after this hearing.  CUB is concerned that this bill is being pushed through the Legislature too quickly.  It was introduced on Feb. 20, a public hearing is being held today, and this committee is supposed to vote on it in two days.  This is too fast; legitimate concerns may not be addressed with such a rushed schedule.

And, CUB isn’t the only stakeholder with concerns.  We would all be much better served if bills were not rushed through the process.

Thank you for this opportunity to provide comments on SB 35.  I would be happy to answer any questions.