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Climate Protesters Greet Review Of Vermont Utilities Ownership Change

A woman carries a banner.
John Dillon
Lauren Weston was among several dozen protesters who blocked traffic in Montpelier as the Public Utility Commission reviewed a Canadian energy company's plans to increase its ownership of two Vermont utilities.

State utility regulators heard more details Tuesday about a Canadian energy company’s plans to increase its indirect ownership stake in two of Vermont’s largest utilities.

The Vermont Public Utility Commission is examining a complex deal involving the publicly held energy investment company, Valener, which currently holds an indirect stake in Green Mountain Power and Vermont Gas.

Valener would be sold to Noverco, the Canadian gas and energy company that owns the Vermont subsidiaries, and this would this would indirectly increase ownership by Enbridge Inc., one of Canada's largest natural gas companies.

Opponents argue the investment could lead to more natural gas pipelines in Vermont. But the state says the deal will not fundamentally change the operations of the Vermont companies.

Traffic in downtown Montpelier came to a standstill Tuesday morning as activists with a group called Extinction Rebellion blocked a major intersection.

Protestor Lauren Weston said Enbridge will likely try to build more gas pipelines in Vermont.

“This is probably going to make some people in Montpelier and surrounding areas very upset with us,” she said as commuters detoured around the blocked intersection. “But the idea is that they should be upset. The Earth is dying. People are still building fossil fuel infrastructure. And nobody is talking about it.”

"The Earth is dying. People are still building fossil fuel infrastructure. And nobody is talking about it." — Lauren Weston, Extinction Rebellion

Inside the Public Utility Commission hearing room, Quebec energy executive Renaud Faucher testified in favor of the deal.

Faucher is president of Noverco, the parent company of Green Mountain Power and Vermont Gas that wants to buy Valener. The proposed deal would eliminate public shares in the complex ownership structure, and it would increase Enbridge's ownership of Noverco to 39 percent. 

Faucher testified that the deal would provide greater access to capital for the companies, including the Vermont subsidiaries.

But under questioning from James Dumont, the opponents’ lawyer, Faucher also said he did not know when or if the Vermont companies ever needed the deep pockets of their Canadian owners.

“But to answer your question, I think making sure there is no restriction on funding capital can only be a benefit,” he said.

The all-day hearing ended with witnesses for the Department of Public Service testifying that the deal would have no effect on how the Vermont utilities operate.

"Allowing the upstream owners to simplify their corporate structure... and potentially provide capital more quickly, this transaction would be in the public good." — C.B. Harreld and Leonard Kujawa, state witnesses

The two witnesses, C.B. “Mike” Harreld and Leonard Kujawa, are both consultants with ProCom Consulting of Alpharetta, Georgia. In documents filed with the commission, they said the proposed transaction would serve the public interest in Vermont.

“Since there is no change in the control of operations for the utilities, allowing the upstream owners to simplify their corporate structure, increase their ability to respond to changes in markets or other circumstances, and potentially provide capital more quickly, this transaction would be in the public good, overall,” they said.

John worked for VPR in 2001-2021 as reporter and News Director. Previously, John was a staff writer for the Sunday Times Argus and the Sunday Rutland Herald, responsible for breaking stories and in-depth features on local issues. He has also served as Communications Director for the Vermont Health Care Authority and Bureau Chief for UPI in Montpelier.
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