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Northeast Utilities CEO under fire for Northern Pass comments

At a national financial conference last month, Northeast Utilities president and chief executive Tom May made what critics say were serious misstatements about the controversial Northern Pass project.

May said the region’s power grid operator, ISO New England, was a proponent of the project to build transmission lines through New Hampshire to carry hydropower from Canada to Southern New England.

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It isn’t.

May said “basically” every environmental group in New England was in favor of it.

Many are opposed.

He said Northern Utilities believes the governor-elect in New Hampshire is supportive of it.

She is not.

May’s statements at the 47th Edison Electric Institute Financial Conference have angered Northern Pass opponents who say May is either uninformed or he intentionally gave investors an inflated picture of support for the $1.1 billion project that Northeast Utilities is proposing. A spokesman for Northern Pass said May is well aware of the concerns some have about the project, and meant to convey different meanings in two of the statements, and was speaking about the Cape Wind project in another.

Edison Electric, an association of shareholder-owned electric companies, holds the annual financial conference to provide updates on “issues and strategies that impact the electric utility industry’s financial performance,” according to its website. Company officials and investors attend or listen to webcasts from it. Environmentalists and reporters listen in, which is how May’s comments were publicized on blogs and news reports.

“We are mystified as to where Mr. May got his information,’’ said Susan Arnold, Appalachian Mountain Club vice president.

Misstatements to the investor community can be considered a serious infraction, according to attorneys who know securities law. However, those infractions usually have to be part a pattern of misstatements over time – the Globe did not find that to be the case – and those statements must affect a company’s stock price. That also does not appear to be the case.

In his remarks, May said, “ISO is a proponent of the project.” Marcia Blomberg, an ISO spokeswoman, said in an ­e-mail, “We have not taken a position on the project.” It has decided, however, that the project is not needed to ensure reliability of the region’s power supply, Blomberg said.

Martin Murray, the Northern Pass spokesman, said, “Tom was expressing his view that Northern Pass” would help with “the number one risk factor” ISO New England has identified – too much dependency on natural gas. “We can argue over the word choice,’’ Murray said.

May also said, “Many of you have heard about the Cape Wind project,” referring to the wind farm planned off Cape Cod. “This has six to seven times more environmental value.” After listing Northern Pass’ environmental benefits, he continued, that is “a pretty big environmental impact, and this project has the support of every environmental group in New England basically.”

But many environmental groups in New Hampshire — and Massachusetts — are against Northern Pass.

Murray said May was talking about Cape Wind’s support from environmentalists.

“He was referring in the same sentence to the Cape Wind project that has wide support; he was [expressing] his hope and our hope Northern Pass ultimately has similar support,’’ Murray said.

Lastly, May said that there is a new governor in New Hampshire “that we believe is supportive of the project.” A spokesman for Maggie Hassan said “she opposes the first Northern Pass proposal.”

Murray said in an e-mail, “We are all well aware of the concerns Governor-elect Hassan has with the original project proposal.”

Beth Daley can be reached at bdaley@globe.com. Follow her @Globebethdaley.
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