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AG To Regulators: Order National Grid To Hire New Auditor

An audit of National Grid is being conducted by two former employees of the utility giant, an arrangement the attorney general said was a conflict of interest. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
An audit of National Grid is being conducted by two former employees of the utility giant, an arrangement the attorney general said was a conflict of interest. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Attorney General Maura Healey’s office is urging state regulators to require National Grid to hire a new auditor, in the wake of reporting by WBUR and the New York Times.

In a letter to the state’s top utility regulator Monday, the AG’s office said any report produced by the audit firm FTI Consulting for National Grid would be “issued under a cloud of bias and conflict of interest.”

In May, the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) approved National Grid’s hiring of FTI, led by two former National Grid employees — one formerly a high-ranking executive. WBUR recently reported that one of the auditors, John Cochrane, serves on the board of Emera Energy Services, a company that has a long-term fuel supply contract with National Grid.

"Given these recent disturbing disclosures, any report produced by FTI will be issued under a cloud of bias and conflict of interest..."

Matthew Saunders, Attorney General's Office

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Saunders wrote a letter to the DPU secretary pointing to WBUR’s revelations and questioning whether FTI’s audit findings on the company’s leadership and decision-making could be reliable.

The AG’s office also voiced concerns about a New York Times story that found FTI ran corporate campaigns “that masqueraded as local grass-roots efforts” and that its employees posed as journalists to influence opinions in favor of fossil fuel companies.

DPU ordered the audit after National Grid sought an electric rate hike back in 2018. The review is meant to investigate the company’s strategic planning and suspected management problems “to the highest levels of the organization.” Regulators raised concerns about the London-based utility giant’s failure to meet deadlines on solar projects as well as a lack of adequate technology planning.

National Grid said in a statement Monday, “FTI was selected to perform the audit on the basis of the strength of its proposal in a fair and transparent process.”

FTI declined to comment. DPU didn’t immediately comment and previously issued a statement saying, “FTI Consulting addressed any potential conflict of interest in a written response issued to the department.”

State regulators had ignored the initial recommendation by the AG’s office to reject FTI as an auditor. The AG’s office raised not only conflict-of-interest issues, but also said FTI’s proposal showed less experience in utility audits than two other bidders for the contract.

Utility regulators in New York had rejected a similar proposal when FTI was part of a bid to audit Long Island Power Authority in 2016. The proposal involved Cochrane auditing areas that were under his purview while he worked at National Grid.

The management audit is underway now and is due in March.

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Saurabh Datar Twitter Investigative Data Reporter
Saurabh Datar is an investigative data reporter for WBUR.

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Beth Healy Twitter Senior Investigative Reporter
Beth Healy is a senior investigative reporter for WBUR.

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