Friday, September 18, 2009

UI Wants Ratepayers To Fund 80 Million Dollar "Taj Mahal" In Orange

Although only about a dozen people attended an aldermanic hearing Thursday night on United Illuminating’s planned move to Orange from downtown New Haven, state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said afterward, “The battle has only begun.”

Blumenthal, who arrived after the hour-long session had adjourned, said he believes there’s “a strong chance” the state Department of Public Utility Control can be persuaded to force UI not to use any rate-payer money to fund its move to Orange.

“This effectively will stop the project,” Blumenthal said. “Because then UI would have to pay for its (new) headquarters out of shareholder funds, and they apparently have no intention of doing so.”

In his written statement, Blumenthal said, “UI’s plan for a corporate office in a Taj Mahal costing in excess of $80 million is an outrage. Rate-payers should be spared this monument to corporate greed.”

UI executives declined an invitation from Alderman Carl Goldfield, D-29, to attend Thursday’s public hearing. Alderman Roland Lemar, D-9, said the fact the public knew this before the session probably hurt attendance.

Goldfield announced at the hearing’s outset that UI representatives had asked for a private meeting with the aldermen.

“I told them that whatever they have to say to us, they should say in public,” Goldfield added.

Insead of appearing at the hearing, UI CEO Anthony Vallillo sent the aldermen a letter defending the company’s decision to consolidate six separate locations into one central facility in Orange.

“UI management is confident this is a prudent business decision and that the move to Orange is in the best interests of all UI customers,” Vallillo wrote. “The move will help UI operate more efficiently and will save customers money in the long run.”

Vallillo estimated the consolidation will save UI customers $25 million over 20 years. “All of these savings flow to all of our customers.”

But Goldfield said Vallillo was “misjudging costs” of the move and Lemar said the letter contained “half-truths and falsified information.”

Lemar charged the move “will ultimately raise rates.” He said it would also be economically damaging to downtown New Haven because 500 UI workers would move out, hurting other city businesses.

Lemar said the move would also increase air pollution because of added traffic on I-95 and make it more difficult for lower-income UI employees to get to work, given the lack of mass transit serving Orange.

Frank Panzarella of the group Fight the Hike told aldermen that “making a big buck” was motivating UI to move to Orange. He said UI is abandoning its role as a corporate citizen responsible to consumers.

Goldfield later addressed another issue: UI’s sale nine years ago of the polluted English Station power plant in New Haven. “We’re looking into a possible lawsuit against UI; can they just turn their back and move on?”

Alderman Mordechai Sandman, D-28, said, “The original polluter (UI) takes ultimate responsibility for the clean-up.”


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