Local energy companies have been in headlines a lot these past few weeks, and for all the wrong reasons.
Monday, Aug. 24, marked the beginning of hearings held by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) to investigate Eversource’s decision to hike rates on customers earlier this summer, and more hearings on the energy company’s response to Tropical Storm Isaias the first week of August are expected.
PURA is looking at the decision by Eversource to increase rate pricing on July 1, which resulted in some customers paying almost double what they have been normally. The increases came as a complete surprise to many as they received their electric bills.
The rate hike, coupled with the slow storm cleanup by Eversource, has left many residents angered and reaching out to their local representatives to voice their concerns.
“Frustrations are especially heightened since this power outage happened on the coattails … (of a) sharp increase in the electric rate. There have been a lot of different theories about what caused the electric rate hike …,” explained State Senator Rob Sampson (R-16) “Connecticut electric rates are among the highest in the United States and there are no signs of that title going away soon.”
Sampson explained that Connecticut is part of the New England electric grid, one very much reliant on natural gas for power generation. That reliance comes as a result of environmental policy decisions that “shifted away from fuels like coal, oil, and nuclear.”
“Since the region has no indigenous natural gas reserves, the supply of gas is transported to power plants in the region largely by pipeline, which is not big enough to service all of the plants at peak times,” Sampson said.
State Representative Liz Linehan (D-103) has also heard from angry constituents, but pointed to the new realities caused by the pandemic as the biggest reasons for the rate hikes.
“A lot of people are rightfully upset,” said Linehan. “What happened here is that, because big companies aren’t utilizing large offices due to everyone working at home, Eversource shifted the costs of redistribution of that electricity to residential customers.”
Sampson offered different reasons for the hike: Connecticut’s policy on environmental issues and allowances made to utility companies.
“Bottom line is that the reason we are suffering is the horrible policy made in Hartford year after year that protects electric companies and essentially allows them to make more profit than a regulated utility reasonably should,” Sampson said. “Not only that, Connecticut has, for better or worse, decided to have possibly the most aggressive clean energy schedule of any state in the country, which means that we are all paying higher premiums because of restrictions and the electric producers method for producing energy. Think green new deal kind of stuff. We need to protect our environment and we need to be forward-thinking about clean and renewable energy sources, but we need to do it on a schedule that is manageable and affordable for Connecticut residents, particularly seniors on fixed incomes.”
During the hearings, Linehan hopes to have a specific question answered by PURA regarding Eversource’s behavior.
“My question to them: Is Eversource allowed to redistribute the cost of the redistribution prices without approval by PURA? My gut feeling is no, they aren’t,” she said.
While the legislature’s hearings haven’t started yet, both Sampson and Linehan are eager for them to begin, and Linehan is looking to her constituents to tell her how to continue.
“The best thing I can get is testimony from my constituents about how they are affected by what happens in Hartford,” she said. “If anything, these hearings are a testament to how the average resident is being heard.”