OPINION: Pull the plug on Avista merger hysteria

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You can stay calm about the Avista deal, folks.

Really.

I understand a little case of nerves here, I really do, but worries are unfounded.

The hundreds of naysayers who have been loudly protesting the impending merger of Avista with Toronto-based Hydro One have no reason to wring their hands.

The Northwest utility company is not being given to Canada — the country one dissenter called a “hostile foreign power” — nor is any part of the United States’ power infrastructure being put at risk.

“The settlement (spelling out provisions of the merger) has been ring-fenced to prevent anything like that,” said Matt Evans, a spokesman for the Idaho Public Utilities Commission. “This deal has multiple layers of protection for American consumers built into it.”

Almost all objections to Avista falling into unsafe hands have to do with the idea of “foreigners” acquiring a piece of Idaho’s utility grid — despite the fact that Avista will continue to operate as a stand-alone entity.

You’d think Canada was planning to hold us hostage.

Perhaps everyone who has been hollering so fiercely about this fairly sensible business deal should call a friend in Boise.

Ask if the water’s been turned off, or if they’re paying massive amounts just to water the lawn.

See, the Treasure Valley and a large swath of southwestern Idaho has been served for years by a company called United Water.

In 2003, United became a wholly owned subsidiary of Suez S. A. (now named Ensigne), a French multinational behemoth that serves 110,000 million people in 70 counties.

So, yes, Boise’s water supply is dependent on a much more economically powerful nation than Canada.

Have the faucets ever been turned off at the Capitol since then?

Of course not.

Even a state power company has become foreign-owned in the past.

PacifiCorps was the ‘Avista of southern Idaho,” so to speak, when it merged with ScottishPower in 1999.

“Nothing bad has ever happened with these various transactions,” Evans said.

What has baffled IPUC and the Avista board about angry objections this time around is that the settlement has been available to study for months.

It’s been totally transparent.

EVANS WAS quick to point out that the terms of the agreement between Avista and Hydro One have been studied and approved at multiple levels.

“The settlement has been approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and Congress itself,” he said.

“Avista customers probably won’t even notice any change in day-to-day service, except perhaps seeing their rates go down.”

Down?

But …

What about the complaint that if Hydro One hits financial snags back in Canada, it would have to get more money from its U.S. customers?

“That scenario is not possible,” Evans said. “Only the IPUC can set rates in Idaho, and they’re based solely on the cost of providing good service based on local costs. What happens in Canada or anywhere else can never have any bearing on that.

“Avista customers, though, will see a rate credit for a few years once the merger is complete, and because both companies then will be improved because of working with economies of scale (not to mention Avista pocketing $5.3 billion for streamlining, development, etc.), it’s quite likely that rates could go down in the long term.”

Unless you believe that there are Canadian troops massed at the border, ready to overrun Sandpoint, there’s truly nothing scary to see here.

Nothing.

•••

Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press.

A Brand New Day appears Wednesday through Saturday each week. Steve’s sports column runs on Tuesday.

Email: scameron@cdapress.com.

Twitter:@BrandNewDayCDA

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