Opponents gather to stop Central Hudson acquisition

The purchase of Central Hudson’s parent company by a Canadian distributor was the subject of a lively forum in Red Hook recently.

Canadian multinational energy distributor Fortis Energy is scheduled to buy CH Energy Group as early as the second quarter of this year. But Citizens for Local Power (CLP), which is fighting the merger, is still trying to stop it.

CLP held an informational meeting at the Elmendorph Inn on April 10, with county legislators from Dutchess and Ulster, as well as local officials and staff from state officials’ offices, in attendance, along with about 30 concerned residents.

“We’re coming in to try to stop this merger at the very end of the process, and it’s going to be difficult,” attorney Dan Duthie, an advisor to CLP, told the gathering. Duthie will represent towns in the Central Hudson service area that have formed a municipal coalition to fight the merger, including Rosendale, Woodstock, Olive, and New Paltz, if the battle eventually goes to court.

CLP claims that the NYS Public Service Commission has not done a thorough job ensuring that this deal is good for consumers. Duthie said that similar utility mergers have included more cash benefits to affected communities and longer rate freezes. Right now, the merger plan includes $50 million in benefits for communities along with a one-year rate freeze. According to Duthie, the community benefits would come in the form of special projects tailored to each community.

Another issue of concern for CLP is Canadian ownership of an American power grid.

“People are taking a hard look at it and saying, do we want to have Con Edison to be the only American-owned utility in this [state]?” Duthie said.

Red Hook Village Mayor Ed Blundell echoed the common concern that response time during emergencies like hurricanes would suffer if the parent company was not local.

“On my cell phone, I have direct access to Central Hudson people,” he said. “If they’re up in Canada, who am l going to call?”

It is not yet clear how much would change in the way Central Hudson operates. Central Hudson’s press release announcing the merger last year, saying: “Central Hudson will remain a standalone utility that joins the Fortis federation of utility companies; its headquarters will remain in Poughkeepsie, NY; and its substantial civic presence will continue throughout the Hudson Valley.”

Still, Blundell cautioned against seeing Central Hudson as a great partner for municipalities, remembering a time when the village tried to change its street lights to LED in order to save money on energy costs.

“They played hardball with us, they were not friends…not cooperative,” he said.

So far, critics have been successful in their campaign to lengthen the public comment period on the merger, and hope to get the PSC to reconsider. The deadline is now May 1. Concerned citizens have been encouraged to submit written comments to the PSC on its website or sign a petition at www.signon.org.

Dutchess County legislator Joel Tyner (D), who represents Rhinebeck, made an impassioned plea to the attendees at the Elmendorph to get involved.

“We can stop this, we have to believe we can stop this. We have to have hope, because the alternative is just too darn depressing,” he said.

At its meeting April 18, Red Hook village board agreed to submit a letter to the PSC protesting the merger, but decided not join the municipal consortium at this time. The town board is not acting at this time.

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