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Senator calls for independent investigation of utilities board

Less than a day after a long-suppressed audit of the state's Clean Energy Program was released by the state Treasury Department, a Senate Republican called for an independent investigation into possible wrongdoing at the state Board of Public Utilities.

Sen. Peter Inverso, R-Hamilton, who has been calling for the release of the draft audit for more than a year, called the contents "very disturbing." On Wednesday, Inverso, an accountant and former auditor, called for "an immediate investigation of the responsible BPU officials."

But Jeanne M. Fox, president of the utilities board, said such an investigation was unnecessary because any deficiencies identified in the two-year-old unfinished audit have already been corrected.

"Based on what's in the draft audit report, there doesn't appear to be anything criminal there," Fox said.

The Clean Energy Program, a $125 million-a-year effort to promote the use of renewable energy by giving rebates to homeowners and businesses that install clean power systems, came under scrutiny in 2004 - a year after it was created - when the board's chief fiscal officer filed a lawsuit alleging mismanagement.

That suit is pending.

Those allegations prompted the Treasury Department audit, it was suspended after preliminary findings were submitted to the Attorney General's Office and a judge issued an order keeping the draft report from... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Sen. Peter Inverso, R-Hamilton, who has been calling for the release of the draft audit for more than a year, called the contents "very disturbing." On Wednesday, Inverso, an accountant and former auditor, called for "an immediate investigation of the responsible BPU officials."

But Jeanne M. Fox, president of the utilities board, said such an investigation was unnecessary because any deficiencies identified in the two-year-old unfinished audit have already been corrected.

"Based on what's in the draft audit report, there doesn't appear to be anything criminal there," Fox said.

The Clean Energy Program, a $125 million-a-year effort to promote the use of renewable energy by giving rebates to homeowners and businesses that install clean power systems, came under scrutiny in 2004 - a year after it was created - when the board's chief fiscal officer filed a lawsuit alleging mismanagement.

That suit is pending.

Those allegations prompted the Treasury Department audit, it was suspended after preliminary findings were submitted to the Attorney General's Office and a judge issued an order keeping the draft report from being released.

The review - and a response from the utilities authority - both were released Tuesday. In releasing the confidential documents, Treasury waived its privilege to keep them sealed, citing continued public interest in the matter and the Corzine administration's commitment to transparency in government.

The 30-page draft audit documents wide-ranging lapses within the Clean Energy Program. Among the findings:

      -Some $83 million from the ratepayer-funded program was invested privately rather than through a Treasury account, as is required.

      -The program lacked an accountant.

      -It kept inadequate accounting records.

      -It hired consultants with limited or no competition.

      -It paid questionable items on invoices.

      "Management oversight is nonexistent," the auditors concluded.

The BPU acknowledged shortcomings in its 34-page response, but denied the auditors' harshest charges.

For example, it said it tried to hire an accountant but could not find one qualified for the job. It also said it didn't realize that it had to invest Clean Energy Program money through a Treasury account.

On Wednesday, Fox went further, calling the draft "an incomplete document."

"There are a lot of things in that audit that are incorrect," Fox said. "There are other things that make sense and we've changed our processes, enhanced our internal controls. Whatever Treasury has asked us to do, we did."

Inverso said he was not satisfied.

He said the BPU should be investigated by an independent third party - not by the Attorney General's Office.

Before taking office, Attorney General Zulima Farber was a volunteer board member at the Rutgers University Center for Economic, Energy & Environmental Policy, which had a $3.6 million contract with the Clean Energy Program.

Though the Attorney General's Office would not confirm or deny that an investigation of the BPU was under way, spokesman Lee Moore on Wednesday said Farber would not recuse herself. Lawyers within the Attorney General's Office determined there is "no conflict under the conflicts of interest law," Moore said.

      ___

      On the Net:

      http://nj.gov/treasury

      http://nj.gov/bpu/


Source: file:///C:/Documents%20and%...

JUL 27 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/3676-senator-calls-for-independent-investigation-of-utilities-board
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