AARP Vermont launched a statewide campaign to recover $21 million owed to ratepayers of Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS) and formally intervened in the pending merger of Green Mountain Power (GMP) and CVPS. The matter will be considered by the Board in the coming months.
“AARP is speaking up for the thousands of Vermont ratepayers who reached into their pockets to bail out CVPS in 2001 when it was in serious financial trouble,” said Greg Marchildon, AARP Vermont state director. “They deserve to be paid back and this merger should not go through until the company commits to directly repay this loan.”
Eleven years ago, the financial viability of CVPS was severely threatened due to what the PSB deemed “imprudent” contracts with Hydro Quebec. Consequently, the Board imposed a special rate increase on CVPS customers with a “windfall provision” stating that ratepayers must be paid back $21 million should CVPS ever become financially healthy enough to merge or be sold. Essentially, the Board treated the rate increase as a loan from ratepayers and ruled that shareholders should not profit from what amounted to a forced emergency loan from customers.
“This windfall provision is clearly triggered by the merger and we are working to ensure that ratepayers receive a check in the mail or an immediate refund on their electric bill,” said Marchildon. “It’s about fairness and about protecting Vermont consumers – many of whom are older and living on minimal income or meager savings.” He stated that rolling the refund into projected merger savings over time – as proposed by utility officials -- is inadequate. “Certainly the merger will result in savings over time or it would never be approved by regulators. But the refund is a separate matter altogether.”
Marchildon stressed that AARP does not oppose the merger itself, but only wants to ensure customers recover their funds from a decade ago.
In January, AARP Vermont launched a statewide campaign to enlist the public along with CVPS ratepayers in the fight to recover the funds. An extensive television advertising campaign was complimented by newspaper ads, direct mail and online ads to generate public support for the initiative. A website, www.payvtback.org, has been set up where Vermonters can lend their voice. Already, over 10,000 petitions have been submitted by concerned ratepayers.
“AARP has a strong history of representing Vermont’s utility consumers on a host of issues from rate cases and energy affordability to rebates and weatherization. We fought for and won this windfall provision back in 2001 and we intend to see it through to the promised payout today,” said Marchildon. “We feel strongly that ratepayers who bailed this company out should be first in line for reimbursement, before company management and shareholders take their profits from the sale.”
AARP Vermont is urging members to go online and sign the petition.