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    Officials Unload On Electric Utilities After Massive Rate Increase Announced


    November 27, 2022 - The Newtown Bee

     

      Following a predictive release from Eversource that led with details on programs to help mitigate or ease the burden of increasing energy generation, the utility company announced it was seeking a massive rate hike that is expected to increase the average monthly electric bill by around $85 beginning in January.

      In Connecticut, the energy supply price changes twice a year — January 1 and July 1 — representing the cost that Eversource pays generators for the power that customers use. Eversource only charges customers what it pays generators for producing the power — it does not earn a profit on the cost of electricity, the notice stated.

      Eversource, as well as United Illuminating — which also supplies thousands of state electric customers — filed new electricity supply prices from power suppliers with Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) that would be in effect from January 1, 2023, through June 30, 2023.

      If approved, the proposed Standard Service Rate for residential customers who receive their energy supply from Eversource would change from 12.1 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to 24.2 cents per kWh, compared to 11.5 cents per kWh last winter. On average, an Eversource residential electric customer who uses 700 kilowatt hours of power each month could see an increase of approximately 48% over the supply portion of their bill.

      If approved, United Illuminating’s Standard Service Rate will increase from 10.62 cents per kWh to 21.94 cents per kWh. This will be a bill increase of 43% or an average monthly increase of $79.

      “We know how challenging increased energy costs are for our customers who are already frustrated with rising prices for other basic, daily needs, and we want to help them manage their energy bills as much as possible,” said Eversource Executive Vice President of Customer Experience and Energy Strategy Penni Conner. “We’re here to work with our customers one-on-one on ways to reduce their energy usage and connect them with assistance programs, flexible payment plans or other resources to help them manage their monthly bill. We also remind customers they can compare energy prices at EnergizeCT and sign up with an alternative supplier for their energy supply if they choose.”

      The proposal met with a tsunami of criticism from both customers and state officials.

      Governor Ned Lamont, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes, and Consumer Counsel Claire Coleman all stepped up with statements critical of the proposals.

      “This is unwelcome news to close out a year that has been challenging for so many in our state,” Lamont said. “In the coming days, I will be calling the General Assembly into special session to adopt legislation focused on providing relief for Connecticut residents, including by ensuring our energy assistance program is adequately funded to at least last year’s level so support is available for electricity and heating oil costs.”

      Lamont was among officials pointing out that electric distribution utilities are enjoying historic profits at the same time electric generation rates are increasing and customers are experiencing economic hardships, and challenged UI and Eversource to come to the table with solutions that recognize their investors. The governor also said utility executives “can and should support customers while we work together towards long-term solutions that untether us from the volatility of global fossil fuel markets.”

      Dykes said the state has taken several actions to help insulate residents from situations like this including keeping the Millstone Power Station online. The DEEP commissioner said this generation source is “providing a cheap, reliable, and carbon-free source of electricity online that is generating net profits that are being returned to Eversource and UI customers.”

      “This is why we employ strategic electricity procurement practices, and why the governor has kept our energy efficiency programs funded,” Dykes said. “It’s also why the state is working hard to diversify its energy mix and has pursued past and ongoing procurements for clean energy resources such as solar and offshore wind that will reduce our reliance on fossil fuel resources over time.”

      “Like all Connecticut residents, I am greatly concerned about the impact that the rising electricity prices announced today will have on consumers’ ability to afford their electricity bills,”Coleman said. Thanking Lamont for calling the legislature into special session to address electricity costs, the consumer counsel said while state and federal funding is critical, “I hope that Eversource and United Illuminating will consider sharing some of their recent healthy profits with customers to help them through the winter.”

      State Senator Tony Hwang, whose 28th District includes Newtown called the rate hike requests, “Outrageous.”

      “There is no other word to describe these massive, crushing rate hikes, and I oppose them in the strongest terms,” Hwang said. “We need accountability and we need transparency. The utilities must answer questions about these unaffordable hikes in a public forum. Their data and reasoning must be thoroughly examined. Their Wall Street financial reporting must be closely analyzed. These are our ‘public’ utilities. We, the public, must be able to have trust in their numbers. These rate hikes will inflict pain on families across Connecticut, and the utilities need to unequivocally justify these requests.”

      Hwang, who was named a Connecticut League of Conservation Voters “Environmental Champion” has championed shared solar programs for low-income families and supported net-metering for residential renewables to foster energy independence, and has led the successful bipartisan push to enact cost-saving municipal virtual net-metering. Even before the rate hikes were proposed, the senator committed to focus on how distributed energy resources like solar and storage can provide value, reliability, and resiliency for homeowners and the electric grid.

      CTPublic’s Patrick Skahill reported November 18 receiving an e-mailed statement from PURA, that said in part, “PURA’s role is limited to ensuring that Eversource (and UI) conducted competitive procurements for the electricity and that both companies are passing through no more and no less than the actual costs of that electricity supply.” In other words, PURA doesn’t have much leeway in reducing the rate request.

      “PURA’s review is largely administrative in nature at this stage,” the agency said. The agency said Connecticut’s decision to deregulate energy markets more than two decades ago made it so “PURA does not have the authority to reject or modify the standard service rates.”

      PURA said it will check to ensure that both Eversource and UI weren’t tacking on any additional profit margins to the rate.

      State Attorney General William Tong commiserated with ratepayers, saying, “We pay far too much for our energy in Connecticut as it is, and these winter rates are nothing short of punishing.”

      “My office has intervened on behalf of consumers at each and every rate case before the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission because we know how much the cost of energy impacts family budgets. We have next to no ability to challenge these supply rates, which is frustrating,” Tong confirmed. “Our supply rates always fluctuate between winter and summer, but this is not normal. We are seeing a huge global spike in gas costs due to the war in Ukraine and Russian manipulation of gas supplies. Both as a country and a state, we need to take a hard look at our energy sources and reduce our reliance on sources like natural gas that produce these wild, unaffordable surges in rates.”

      While it may be a small consolation, the governor said Connecticut is in a similar position as other New England states, and that his administration has worked to mitigate impact.

      “I want residents to know that programs are available for those who need support paying their electric bills this winter, including our energy efficiency programs, which we’ve kept funded and provided supplemental funds to in order to help those most in need,” Lamont said.

      The Eversource release detailed several programs available to try and assist ratepayers including Budget Billing, Matching Payment, New Start and the state’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

      Eversource is encouraging customers who are having difficulty paying their energy bills or want to learn more about what help is available to participate in one of its upcoming webinars — December 1 or 8 at noon. The webinar will include information about protection from service disconnection, programs to reduce unpaid balances with affordable monthly payments, extended payment plans and no-cost energy efficiency programs that can help lower energy usage.

      Advanced registration is required, and customers can sign up at Eversource.com/Billhelp. Customers can also call the energy company at 800-286-2828 to learn more about the assistance and programs available.

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