By Steve Tawa

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission today held a competing hearing, at the same time a similar one was going on in Philadelphia City Council, about the future of the Philadelphia Gas Works.

Philadelphia City Council has already blocked Mayor Nutter’s plan to sell the city-owned natural gas utility.  Several City Council members critical of the sale believe that the sale agreement cannot be modified, and they refused to rubber stamp a take-it-or-leave it offer.

At today’s PUC hearing on the Drexel University campus, the mayor himself testified that the sale of PGW is a “once-in-a-generation opportunity, with no comparable alternatives.  This course of action is superior to other thinkable options,” he said.

(Mayor Nutter testifies.  Photo by Steve Tawa)

(Mayor Nutter testifies. Photo by Steve Tawa)

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Nutter also read aloud a fresh, detailed opinion from city solicitor Shelley Smith on whether the city’s agreement with UIL, a private utility conglomerate based in Connecticut, could be adjusted based on a City Council review:

“To be clear, City Council can make amendments or changes to the agreement, subject to the agreement of the parties.”

But City Council president Darrell Clarke has told KYW Newsradio that Council’s perception about its ability to amend the deal is based solely on the solicitor’s written opinion, not what the mayor or any UIL official may say.

“We have a city solicitor’s opinion that indicates that we have limited ability to alter the document.  That’s what we are acting on as it relates to this particular transaction,” Clarke said this morning, prior to the PUC hearing.

And Clarke said the city solicitor would need to issue a revised opinion before City Council’s stance on this changes.

PUC member James Cawley says the agreement already contains “generous terms,” and hopes City Council will reconsider.

“I can’t imagine looking a gift horse like this in the mouth,” he said.

KYW Newsradio’s Mike Dunn contributed to this story.