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February 29. 2012 11:39PM

Last day on the job is today for State Consumer Advocate Hatfield


HATFIELD 

MANCHESTER — State Consumer Advocate Meredith A. Hatfield serves her last day today, after nearly five and a half years representing the interests of ratepayers before the state Public Utilities Commission.

Hatfield is moving to a new job as a lawyer for the state Department of Administrative Service. She declined comment for this story.

Hatfield's term was marked by major changes in the state utilities, including the sale of Verizon's landline business to FairPoint Communications and the addition of a mercury scrubber at PSNH's Merrimack Station in Bow.

F. Anne Ross, the PUC's general counsel, and Hatfield's predecessor as Consumer Advocate, said, “There are two areas where I think she's really accomplished quite a bit — one is at the legislature and the other is at the commission.”

Ross credited Hatfield with winning legislative approval to create the Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Energy (EESE) board and to repeal an exemption from the Right to Know law for telecommunications firms.

At the commission, Ross said, Hatfield opposed the sale of New Hampshire phone lines to FairPoint, which later led to the company's bankruptcy and reorganization, and she pushed for review of PSNH's mercury scrubber when costs nearly doubled in 2008 to $457 million from a 2005 estimate of $250 million.

A push for stronger review by a group of private businesses led by Stonyfield Farm Inc. chief executive Gary Hirshberg made its way to the State Supreme Court but was dismissed because the court said the Commercial Ratepayers Group lacked standing to bring the suit against the Public Utilities Commission.

But it may have been Hatfield's opposition to PSNH's contract with Berlin BioPower because of its higher costs to consumers that ultimately cost Hatfield her the job she started in October 2006.

Last fall, Executive Councilors Christopher T. Sununu and Raymond J. Wieczorek opposed Hatfield's renomination.

“The reason I didn't vote for her was I was working hard to get that biomass plant up to Berlin because they needed jobs so badly and she was opposed to it,” Wieczorek said Wednesday.

“I guess those are the hard choices that you have to make sometimes,” he said. “I know that if we could get some people working up there that would help the North Country.”

But Claira Monier, who is vice chair of the Consumer Advocate Residential Ratepayers Advisory Board, said the 20-year contract locks in above-market rates that are more expensive than buying power on the market.

“So the residential ratepayers will be paying to subsidize Laidlaw (Berlin BioPower) and provide employment in Berlin, and Meredith (Hatfield) laid out the facts because it will raise ratepayers' rates.”

“It is ironic that here we have a very conservative executive councilor who is voting for subsidies for the North Country,” Monier said.


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