Idaho regulators question Avista’s sale to Canadian utility
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Idaho public utility officials are raising questions about Spokane, Washington-based energy company Avista Corp.’s sale to a Canadian utility, and their concerns have the potential to unravel the $5.3 billion deal.
Staff members from the Idaho Public Utilities Commission say the Ontario government’s influence on Toronto-based owner Hydro One Ltd. make them uneasy, the Spokesman-Review reported .
“I am concerned that there does not appear to be a limit on the Province of Ontario’s authority over Hydro One,” wrote Terri Carlock, utilities division administrator for the Idaho Public Utilities Commission, in a document evaluating the proposed sale. ”. Recent activities in the Province of Ontario demonstrates this influence is a real risk for Hydro One.”
In July, Hydro One’s entire board of directors resigned and its chief executive officer retired under pressure from the newly elected Premiere Doug Ford, who had made discontent with the utility a centerpiece of his campaign, according to the Spokesman-Review. Since the election, Ford has proposed a 12 percent rate decrease for Hydro One customers and the government has passed a law changing how the utility’s executive compensation is set.
The province is Hydro One’s largest shareholder, with a 47 percent stake in the company.
However, “this level of interference goes well beyond the normal role of any shareholder,” Carlock wrote. “Nothing prevents the Province of Ontario from passing additional laws directing operations of Hydro One.”
After the sale, Avista would be run by a separate board of directors, protecting its operations from political interference by the Ontario government, said Scott Morris, Avista’s chairman and CEO.
Avista and Hydro One want to finalize the sale before the end of the year, though they’ve extended the deadline for the transaction to March 29.
Idaho is among five states that must approve the sale for it to go through. The three public utility commissioners must determine whether the sale is in the best interest of Avista’s Idaho customers.
Public utility commissions in Montana and Alaska have approved the sale, with decisions pending in Washington, Idaho and Oregon.
Washington regulators plan to make a decision by Dec. 14, but Idaho hasn’t set a deadline for a decision.
Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesman.com