- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Public officials in Vermont again are expressing interest in getting into the power generation business now that a series of hydroelectric dams on the Connecticut and Deerfield rivers is up for sale for the first time in more than a decade.

A spokesman for TransCanada, the Alberta-based firm that owns the 13 dams, confirmed Tuesday that it was looking to sell the properties to help raise money for its purchase of Houston-based Columbia Pipeline Group.

“This major acquisition will make TransCanada one of North America’s largest regulated natural gas transmission businesses,” spokesman Mark Cooper said in an email.

Also Tuesday, state House Speaker Shap Smith, a Democrat, issued a statement saying he would support the idea of the state looking to purchase the dams and hold them in public ownership. That’s something the state tried to do more than a decade ago, but it was outbid by TransCanada, which bought the dams for $505 million.

“In 2005, the State of Vermont failed to acquire dams along the Connecticut River,” Smith said. “I believe our failure to do so was a missed opportunity that impacted Vermont’s clean energy portfolio and regional economic development opportunities.”

He said he hoped to work with the administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, and state Treasurer Beth Pearce, a Democrat appointed by Shumlin, on rekindling the idea of buying assets that produce large amounts of cheap electricity without high carbon emissions.

“We must undertake a full review of how the purchase of these dams could impact Vermont’s clean energy future and economic development,” Smith said.

Shumlin spokesman Scott Coriell said the governor was interested as well.

“The governor and the speaker spoke about it this morning,” he said. “We’ll be working collaboratively with the speaker and others to look at it. Lots of preliminary questions need to be answered, and that’s what we’re working on now.”

Pearce said she, too, was looking forward to examining the possibility.

“As with all potential acquisitions, we will give it a thorough review,” she said.

Shumlin is not seeking a fourth two-year term this year. There are three Democrats and two Republicans vying to replace him.

Former state Sen. Peter Galbraith, a Democrat, was enthusiastic.

“It depends on the price, but this is something that if the price is right we should do,” he said. “It’s green energy, not controversial. It’s inexpensive energy, and it’s a great investment, potentially.”

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, called the idea “worth examining,” and former Transportation Secretary Sue Minter, a Democrat, said “we should immediately assess the viability” of buying the dams.

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