By Michael Kuser
Eversource Energy’s second-quarter profits this year increased 13.3% over the same period a year ago, driven mainly by higher distribution revenues and lower operations and maintenance expenses.
The company reported net earnings of $230.7 million in the second quarter of 2017, compared to $203.6 million a year earlier. In a July 28 earnings call, CFO Phil Lembo highlighted the company’s transmission expansion plans, and its move away from electricity generation and into the water industry with its planned $1.7 billion acquisition of water utility Aquarion Water, which operates in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Eversource expects to close the deal by year-end following regulatory approval.
Lembo commented on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ April ruling overturning a 2014 FERC order that lowered the base return on equity for New England transmission owners from 11.14% to 10.57%. The court said the commission failed to meet its burden of proof in declaring the previous 11.14% rate unjust and unreasonable. (See Court Rejects FERC ROE Order for New England.)
In June, the New England TOs — including Eversource — filed with FERC to begin billing customers based on the prior ROE, with retroactive billing to June 8 of this year, 60 days after FERC assembles a quorum.
The commission has lacked the necessary three-member quorum since the February departure of former Chair Norman Bay and has been down to one commissioner — acting Chair Cheryl LaFleur — since Colette Honorable left last month. LaFleur may be joined by four new members if Democrat Richard Glick and Republicans Kevin McIntyre, Robert Powelson and Neil Chatterjee win Senate confirmation. (See Trump Names Energy Lawyer McIntyre as FERC Chair.)
“As a reminder, every 10 basis points [0.1%] of change in transmission ROEs results in about $3 million after-tax earnings annually,” Lembo said. The posted Q2 earnings reflect the lower ROE rate ordered by FERC.
Company executives also touted the benefits of a proposed project designed to help Massachusetts meet its ambitious clean energy goals.
Eversource and Hydro-Québec on July 27 jointly bid the Northern Pass transmission line into the state’s solicitation. The 192-mile line would carry 1,090 MW of Canadian hydropower into New England and deliver up to 9.4 TWh/year for a period of 20 years starting in December 2020. The RFP encouraged bids able to begin delivering all or part of the state’s required 9.45 TWh/year of renewable energy by the end of 2020. (See Hydro-Québec Dominates Mass. Clean Energy Bids.)
New Hampshire’s site evaluation on Northern Pass is moving forward this summer, and the company estimates the project will be fully permitted by the end of September, allowing construction to start in early 2018, Executive Vice President Lee Olivier said.
“We believe this schedule would put us ahead of any other major project to import Canadian hydro into New England,” Olivier said. “Our confidence in the construction schedule is also supported by the firm contracts we have with two of the most pre-eminent firms in the world in terms of electric transmission design and construction, ABB and Quanta Services.”
Bay State Wind, a 50/50 partnership between Eversource and DONG Energy, will also bid into a separate wind project RFP in December to develop an offshore site south of Martha’s Vineyard.
The company also noted that Massachusetts regulators last month wrapped up hearings on rate cases filed by Eversource subsidiaries NSTAR Electric and Western Mass Electric, which have asked to raise their base distribution rates by $60 million and $36 million, respectively. Eversource also sought approval to combine the two utilities.
“Hearings have concluded on the rate case, except for rate design topics,” Lembo said. “We expect a decision on the financial aspects of the case by the end of November, with the rate design decision around year-end. New rates would be effective in January of 2018 and to date we’ve had no surprises in the rate review process.”
In New Hampshire, binding bids to buy the company’s Public Service of New Hampshire generation fleet are due in August. “There, too, the overall divestiture process is moving along well and we expect regulatory approval of the sale by the end of the year, with securitization activities to follow soon after the closing,” Lembo said.