SALEM — Liberty Utilities is gearing up for a seamless transition from National Grid when it takes over electric and natural gas properties in New Hampshire this summer, its president said Wednesday.
Victor Del Vecchio, president of Liberty Utilities-East, which will consist of Granite State Electric and Energy North, said, “We're very confident that this will be a positive experience and that safety is job No. 1 as it has been with Grid and will continue with Liberty immediately thereafter.”
The sale will affect about 130,000 New Hampshire customers, including 43,000 electric customers in 21 communities and 87,000 natural gas customers in 30 communities. A formal closing on the deal is expected July 3.
“We're ready to rock and roll when necessary,” Del Vecchio said, ticking off a list of steps the company has taken to prepare for the transition:
ŸOffice space: Liberty has leased space from ADP at 11 Northeastern Boulevard in Salem.
ŸRebranding: Materials to rebrand trucks and new logos for bills and other company materials are ready.
ŸPolicy review: Policies and procedures have been reviewed and updated where necessary.
ŸRegulatory filings: Liberty has confirmed its ability to comply with New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission obligations.
ŸIT systems: Requirements for computer systems and project plans have been developed. Systems required for Day 1 have been designed and tested.
ŸPurchases: Computer hardware, phones, other equipment have been ordered, and in some cases are already installed. Employee access cards have been purchased.
Ÿ Vendor relations: Contracts with third parties have been assigned or replaced.
ŸEmergency preparedness: There is a plan in place with an incident command structure, a list of responsible personnel and their roles, including a liaison when the state emergency command center is activated.
ŸAdditional crews: Liberty is bolstering its own forces, ensuring emergency availability of its contractor forces and expanding to other contractor crews to the northwest and south as far as Pennsylvania for storm management.
“You go through the list of things, the things that should occur, and they have occurred or are continuing to occur,” Del Vecchio said.
The Public Utilities Commission on May 31 approved an agreement modifying the $285 million transaction.
Liberty Utilities is a subsidiary of Oakville, Ontario-based Algonquin Power and Utilities Corp.
“Algonquin is very strong financially and is in the process of raising additional funds for the purpose of this acquisition,” Del Vecchio said, “and by all accounts that's going very well.”
National Grid spokesman David Graves said the company believes the deal is in the best interest of New Hampshire customers.
“The service remains the same and the goal remains the same and that is to provide safe and reliable service for both natural gas and electricity customers,” Graves said.
“We are committed not just for the next months but for a two-year period to provide support services to Liberty to ensure that transition for the customers,” he said.
Del Vecchio, an experienced utility attorney who represented Liberty Energy before the PUC before becoming its regional president, said the National Grid commitments as well as the transfer of its employees to the new company should reassure customers.
“Frankly it's also important to note that 85 percent, approximately, of the employees that we have now are from National Grid,” Del Vecchio said.
“The employees that provided safe reliable service, the crews that are at your home prior to July are going to be the same crews that come out and provide safe and reliable service after July when Liberty takes over,” he said.
“It's also important to remember we're still relying on National Grid for a period time. There are available to Liberty over 140 transition services agreements,” Del Vecchio said.
Liberty Utilities, for example, will be using call-in centers from National Grid for up to two years, if necessary. “In fact, there is a provision which would permit extension beyond that as appropriate. So National Grid is there as a backstop and they're there initially when the transition commences, and that's very helpful,” he said.
Algonquin also is providing back office corporate support such as securities filings, tax work, centralized regulatory assistance and administrative and financial support, he said.
“They've been very helpful in ensuring that we have resources that we need and hire the folks that we have hired so we can operate as a local standalone operation and that is the game plan,” Del Vecchio said.
Del Vecchio said there are no hurdles to overcome at the local level. “We are looking forward to meeting with the communities and other officials around the state soon, but we didn't want to do so earlier because it would have been premature,” he said. “At this point, we're anxious to get out and communicate what we're all about, and we will be doing so shortly.”
After retiring as Verizon's New England regional regulatory attorney, Del Vecchio served for two years as a consultant to the New Hampshire commission.
“So I also was able to gain an understanding over the course of the past year and a quarter of the practices, procedures and services provided by both granite state and energy north
“So I think the confluence of those factors, my experience in regulation, my, knowledge of the companies' operations and the management folks that were working with National Grid many of whom are now going to work for Liberty and I think my general legal background were helpful in making that transition and so far, it's been pretty exciting,” he said.
Over the next 18 months, Liberty Utilities will be opening walk-in customer centers in Salem, Manchester, Nashua, Tilton, and Lebanon.
“We're bringing back the sense of local, which is not something I think has been too prevalent over the past few years,” Del Vecchio said.
A drive-up center at 9 Lowell Road, in Salem, for example, closed in 1997.
“We have to go through the process of renovating some of the existing facilities and looking for good customer space,” said William T. Sherry , who is heading customer service, sales and marketing for Liberty Utilities-East.
DelVecchio said he has maintained a home in New Hampshire for 29 years as well as home in Massachusetts. “I have an apartment which is about 10 minutes from here, so I can be readily available,” he said. “I'm going nowhere, and I say that in a good way.”
@Body Copy tagline diamond:.
On the Net
@Body Copy tagline diamond:.