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New England States Protest Grid Operator's Budget
11/28/2012   Reported By: Jennifer Mitchell

Less than a week after Gov. Paul LePage delivered a statewide address calling for more ratepayer relief, New England's electric grid operator is calling for a bigger budget. As Jennifer Mitchell reports, ISO New England's budget has consistently increased over the last several years, and now the New England states and consumer advocates want to know why.

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The new $165 million dollar budget requested by ISO New England would go into effect Jan. 1, which doesn't leave a lot of time for ratepayers to do the math.

"You would think, like every other budget, that the states would have a very big influence, and at least have authority to say, 'No, that's not acceptable to us,'" says Ken Fletcher, director of the Governor's Energy Office.

Fletcher says the non-profit transmission organization's request for more money is exasperating, and comes at a time when the administration has made it clear that Maine needs to put a lid on high energy costs. Despite this, he says ISO's costs just keep swelling.

"The budget has increased 34 percent in just the past four years," Fletcher says. "That's rather alarming when you consider that we really haven't necessarily increased either the population or the amount of electricty we're using, but just the administrative costs and personnel costs are going up at that rate."

According to Fletcher's initial calucations, Maine would be on the hook for about an extra $1 million next year in electricty costs to help cover ISO's budget request for 2013. While that bill would be split among thousands of businesses and consumers, and ratepayers would not see much of a jump on their bills, Fletcher says the costs do add up over time.

He's also concerned that costs for things like grid transmission are not itemized. That means Maine consumers don't always know what they're paying for, or why it costs what it does.

And, it's not just Maine thinking that way either. Other New England states that rely on ISO for grid services are also registering concern. New Hampshire Consumer Advocate Susan Chamberlin says that right now, it appears that no one is scrutinizing ISO's budget requests on the behalf of consumers.

"They've basically said, 'Well, we're hiring new people and we're doing this and we're doing that. And it may be that these are legitimate costs," Chamberlin says. "But without a hearing and an investigation, we have no basis other than their word for it that they are."

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is the organization that oversees ISO, but Chamberlin says that FERC hasn't held a budget review since 2006.

Massachusetts-based ISO New England did not return a telephone call seeking comment for this story. But in a written statement to MPBN, the grid operator says its budget process is "transparent" and that state officials do have an opportunity for input.

Ken Fletcher at the state energy office says, so far, ISO has simply ignored state input and done as it pleases. New England states are now asking for a delay in implementing the budget on Jan. 1, and for a process by which states and consumer advocates can have a stake in a yearly budget review process.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will decide whether that happens or not.



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