Somers’ legislation to protect ratepayers clears first test

March 23, 2017

A proposed bill by the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee would add ratepayer representatives to the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative board of directors and would require future board retreats to be held within Connecticut.

The bill was approved unanimously this week by the General Assembly’s joint committee and also contains provisions that CMEEC board meeting agendas, minutes, resolutions and votes be published on the cooperative’s website and that an annual forensic audit be posted as well.

The proposed bill, listed as Substitute Bill No. 4, was crafted after several proposed bills would have called for everything from more transparency of the energy cooperative’s operations to a repeal of the statute that created the entity.

The bills were filed in response to lavish strategic retreats CMEEC has hosted for dozens of staff, board members, municipal officials and guests to the Kentucky Derby for the past four years. The trips collectively have cost more than $1 million, including a May 2016 trip that cost $342,330 for 44 participants.

The trips also have sparked ethics complaints in Norwich and Groton, and the FBI also has launched an investigation into CMEEC and its member utilities.

State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, who had proposed the bill to abolish CMEEC, said she supports the new bill and helped craft its language.

“These are important first steps to protect ratepayers,” Somers said. “These reforms will send a message that those who do not consider the ratepayers or follow the rules will be held responsible.”

The CMEEC board comprises representatives from the member utilities’ commissions and their administrative leaders. But the bill would require the legislative bodies of each CMEEC member to appoint ratepayer representatives to the board. Somers said the provision would “significantly change the makeup of the board.”

The proposed new ratepayer representatives would have to be current residential or commercial ratepayers within the CMEEC member cities and towns who do not hold other official positions within any of the member municipalities and are not employees of any of the municipalities or of the energy cooperative.

The bill also puts strict limits on future strategic retreats, requiring them to be held in Connecticut, to include meetings and cooperative business.

Agendas, lists of attendees and retreat meeting minutes would have to be posted within five days.

“Such retreat or activity shall not include any entertainment or gifts of value other than that approved by the cooperative utility board,” the proposed bill states.

“We hope any legislation that moves forward does not have a negative impact on the operations of CMEEC or, more importantly, lead to increased rates for our members and their customers,” CMEEC Executive Director Drew Rankin said of the proposed bill.