The governor on Wednesday nominated a New Durham attorney as a ‘special commissioner’ to the Public Utilities Commission to hear cases in which another commissioner has a conflict of interest. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)
Attorney F. Anne Ross was nominated at Wednesday’s Executive Council meeting to serve as a special commissioner on the Public Utilities Commission, which she works for as general counsel.
If confirmed, Ross would be acting on a total of 26 various issues that are currently before the utilities commission, including the contentious triennial energy efficiency plan and other cases where another commissioner can’t act on because his prior involvement in the cases creates a conflict of interest. In addition to working for the commission, Ross has previously served as the consumer advocate.
Current Consumer Advocate Don Kreis said the nomination raised a question of whether Ross would be able to act independently as a commissioner given that she currently reports to the chair of the commission. He said the appointment would set a bad precedent.
The utilities, along with a far-reaching coalition of environmental, clean energy, and consumer advocates, had asked for the appointment of a special commissioner in the energy efficiency case. Dan Goldner, chair of the PUC, broadened that request to include a total of 26 cases that Commissioner Carleton Simpson, previously an energy lawyer for Unitil, which has an interest in the cases, will be required to recuse himself from. Those include a case on grid modernization, net metering, an electric assistance program, and rates for charging electric vehicles, among others. Ross fulfills the requirement that one of the members of the three-person PUC be a lawyer.
The appointment comes a few days before a lawsuit brought by the non-profit Clean Energy New Hampshire, several contractors, and the town of Hanover is set to be heard in Superior Court on Dec. 27. The lawsuit argues, among other things, that the PUC is currently unable to act in a timely manner.
Sam Evans-Brown, executive director of Clean Energy New Hampshire, said this nomination doesn’t change that argument, but reinforces it. “We’re in a state of total upheaval still,” he said. “What you see playing out right now is, before we can get to a point where we can progress on the programs, we have to have a fight about who is going to make the decision.”
The state filed its arguments earlier this week, in which assistant attorney generals Seth Zoracki and Samuel Garland argue that Clean Energy New Hampshire is pursuing “relief in the wrong forum.”
The Executive Council must confirm Ross’s nomination at a subsequent meeting before she would be able to act on cases before the utilities commission.
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