By Steve Barlow, Republican-American
State regulators will reconsider a hike in Eversource’s electricity rates approved last fall that has customers howling after opening their latest bills.
The Public Utility Regulatory Authority made the announcement on the heels of a letter earlier this week from the state’s legislative leadership asking for the increases that went into effect July 1 to be suspended. The letter followed a flood of complaints from constituents angry over bills that jumped by as much as $100 or more.
“My concern is twofold. Where did the rate increases come from and why were they approved? And is Eversource being transparent or are they just looking for a scapegoat?” said state Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire.
Eleven top legislators from both parties signed the letter, and other officials piled on Thursday, with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and state Attorney General William Tong also questioning the rate hikes.
“We’ve received complaints from over 100 consumers,” Tong said. “Consumers have a right to be angry. We pay far too much for our energy as it is.”
The state pays the fourth-highest energy costs in the country, trailing only Hawaii, Alaska and Massachusetts, according to the Milken Institute think tank. Connecticut’s rates are also 75% above the national average.
Eversource attributed this month’s higher bills to a combination of inflated usage prompted by a hot summer, as well as state and federal mandates.
Average use increased 26% in June from the previous year and by 36% from May to June, when temperatures started to heat up, according to Eversource spokeswoman Tricia Modifica.
“This jump reflects the reality of more customers working from home during the pandemic, running the air conditioner during these hot days, the pool filter, the dehumidifier and other appliances,” Modifica said. “Usage is really up.”
She also pointed to state legislation passed in 2017 requiring Eversource and United Illuminating, the state’s other electric utility, to enter into a 10-year deal to buy power from the Millstone nuclear plant in Waterford. The goal was to keep the plant viable and reduce Connecticut’s carbon footprint.
Eversource began buying power from Millstone in October and the increase in the delivery charges reflecting that deal started July 1, Modifica said.
“We and others argued against that new fee, but were unsuccessful,” she noted.
Linehan disputed that this mandate prompted the rate hike, noting Dominion Energy, which runs Millstone, charges only 4.999 cents per kilowatt hour for the power, below the 7.375 cents Eversource started charging for its standard service in July.
“In plain language, I’m not buying it,” Linehan said. “Right now, there are more questions than answers.”
In response, Modifica said the kilowatt-per-hour price is only one of many factors in the Millstone contract that is raising costs.
“They’re oversimplifying,” she said of Dominion. “The (contract) is adding $124 million to customers’ bills, and that’s what they’re seeing now.”
Eversource also passed along raises in other delivery charges, almost all of which are levied based on usage. One of them, the federal Transmission Access Charge, which pays for servicing the electric grid, went up 45%.
Blumenthal and Tong sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission asking for that increase to be suspended and rebates to be awarded to consumers.
“The decision to increase energy delivery fees at a time when our country is hurting due to the coronavirus pandemic is an abuse of power that fails to put families first and must be rescinded,” they wrote.
A spokesman for United Illuminating said its rates haven’t gone up and PURA has not approved any future increases.
Eversource wants to work with customers who are having trouble paying their bills, Modifica said.
“We have fielded thousands of calls from customers this week alone,” she said. “We encourage them to call so they can talk with us about the different programs we have that can help.”
Eversource has a no-fee, no-interest program that allows people up to 24 months to pay off a bill and any back balance, Modifica noted.
She also encouraged consumers to reduce their bills by turning up the thermostat by a few degrees, if possible; keeping air conditioner filters and coils clean; clearing air vents, and fillings cracks and gaps in the walls to trap in cool air.