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Coakley talks rates, challenger at Solutia visit

Date: 9/28/2010

Sept. 29, 2010

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- So was a trip to what she called the "largest chemical manufacturer in New England" part of her effort to stop a requested rate increase by Western Massachusetts Electric Company (WMECO), or was it a renewed effort to campaign for her re-election?

Attorney General Martha Coakley toured Solutia Sept. 22, days after she gained a Republican opponent, former Worcester and Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney James McKenna, on the general ballot.

On Aug. 20, Solutia joined the city of Springfield, the Western Massachusetts Industrial Group, the Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the University of Massachusetts by requesting intervener status in WMECO's rate petition case before the Department of Public Utilities (DPU).

Intervener status allows Solutia to provide expert testimony during the next phase of the rate petition hearings.

According to a written statement to the press -- Solutia officials would not speak to the press -- the proposed rate change would increase Solutia's power distribution rates at the facility by more than $1 million per year.

Coakley said the decision to raise the rates is up to the DPU, which will begin its deliberations in October. A decision, she added, would come some time after that.

WMECO's $28 million rate hike request will affect both small and large businesses, she said. WMECO has "the burden" of proving the rate increase is necessary, she added.

She said WMECO's customers should not be forced to pay for the company's not "keeping up" on its infrastructure, she said.

"If you're a business, you're incurring costs, costs of doing business that you can't necessarily past along," he said.

Coakley acknowledged WMECO's rate increase could prove to be an economic development issue in this part of the state.

"All issues right now are economic development issues," she said.

Speaking about her re-election campaign, Coakley said she is "running hard" and has been campaigning since February.

She said having a Republican opponent did not surprise her and that she "always anticipated someone on the ballot."

Her poorly run campaign for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat and loss to then State Sen. Scott Brown drew national attention.

She said that she felt bad that voters believed she didn't care about them.

"I took that lesson loud and clear," she said.

She added she would be willing to debate McKenna and that her record as attorney general is "impressive."

"I will put my record up against anybody," she asserted.

She has been going door to door, she said, most recently in Leominster, to gain support.

Although Coakley was criticized during her run for Senate for her dismissal of shaking hands outside of Fenway Park, she seemed to change her attitude of pressing the flesh for votes. After the press conference she was scheduled to stand outside at the Big E meeting potential voters.

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