Frustration over electric energy cooperative grows

Frustration grows with every new story about the shenanigans that went on at a Norwich-based electric energy cooperative, including the growing likelihood that few, if any, of those responsible will suffer genuine consequences.

The story is now familiar to our readers. For four years, board members, some paid officials of the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative, and invited guests would make an annual five-star junket to the Kentucky Derby, expending about $1.1 million in the process. And there were other trips. The Norwich Ethics Commission recently received a complaint involving a 2015 excursion to a luxurious golf resort in West Virginia.

Thanks to the dogged investigative reporting of Day Staff Writer Claire Bessette we now learn that CMEEC has spent $53,000 in legal fees defending Norwich Public Utilities officials facing ethics violations tied to Derbygate. Expect more legal bills with three Groton Utilities officials facing ethics complaints in that municipality.

Try as they might, local ethics panels may simply not be up to the job of holding utility officials accountable. Instead their efforts are resulting in a big payday for the Hartford law firm of Murtha Cullina.

Back in November came word that the FBI was taking a good look at CMEEC and the municipal utilities that hold ownership of it − Groton, Norwich and Jewett City locally − but it is uncertain what exactly agents were looking for or whether anything will come of it.

At one point on the table was legislation introduced by state Sen. Heather Somers of Groton to blow the whole thing up and start with a new, better watched and regulated entity to play the role of negotiating wholesale contracts for the municipal utilities. That’s a tempting idea, but the fact is CMEEC does many things well, recently receiving a strong credit rating from Fitch Ratings, which appears unconcerned about the scandal.

Still under consideration is legislation that would require greater transparency of CMEEC’s financial dealings, with the Somers’ bill containing the strongest language. Any final bill should include some degree of oversight by the state Public Utility Control Authority, now lacking.

The reason for the cooperative is to get the best price possible for the power it buys and to protect ratepayers from price spikes. The expensive, self-serving excursions strayed far from that mission.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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