Southington resident Kevin Casey saw his July electric bill from Eversource and was shocked at the steep spike in the delivery rate. His electricity usage was $58 and delivery was $102.
“Even before the pandemic our delivery rate was high,” Casey said. “But nobody could see any reason for this.”
Social media buzzed recently with thousands of angry Connecticut residents complaining about high delivery charges during a time when many people are working from home to halt the spread of COVID-19, while others have lost jobs or are working reduced hours.
Casey grew frustrated with the numbers of people complaining without taking action. So he started a petition Friday that names several lawmakers and representatives from the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, or PURA. As of Monday the petition had more than 57,600 signatures.
Complaints also reached Meriden Mayor Kevin Scarpati, who sought answers from Eversource. Scarpati posted Eversource’s response on his Facebook page. It blamed lower consumption due to a mild winter and a federally-mandated congestion charge associated with payments made in state-approved power purchase deal with the Millstone Power Plant. The agreement resulted in rates going from 1.585 cents per kilowatt-hour to 3.048 cents per kilowatt-hour and accounts for 90 percent of the increase on monthly bills.
“We absolutely understand the concerns of customers and encourage them to call us to make payment plans, and find ways to reduce energy,” said Eversource spokeswoman Tricia Modifica.
The Millstone deal requires Eversource to purchase power at higher cost for the next 10 years.
“We had concerns about this and we notified legislators about what it would mean for customers,” Modifica said.
But state Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, said the Millstone legislation passed by the General Assembly only approved a purchase deal between the two parties. PURA had the final say on the rates and other details. Linehan urged constituents to oppose the rate hike to PURA.
PURA representatives could not be reached for comment Monday.
Three factors are hitting consumer electric bills this month. In 2018, there was a rate recovery settlement stemming from Eversource’s last rate case; the Millstone charge to address system congestion; and a transmission rate increase imposed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Linehan plans to work with the co-chair of the Energy and Technology Committee — Sen. Norman Needleman, D-Essex — on a bill to be considered in the September special session.
“I will aid him however he needs me, and will co-sponsor if and when we are able to move forward,” Linehan said on social media. “Please be aware that the special session has its limitations, but the chairman and the entire Democratic House caucus is working to achieve an end goal of savings for residents, especially during this pandemic.”
Rep. William Petit, R-Plainville, who sits on the Energy and Technology Committee, said he is waiting for a fact sheet from legislative researchers.
Petit explained delivery costs include hard-wiring and tree trimming work designed to protect against prolonged outages. In 2017, there was a lot of “hullabaloo over whether Millstone was going to remain in the state and the higher costs are a result of zero carbon emissions,” he said. Alternative energy such as solar and wind might not be cost effective, and state lawmakers have rejected any pipeline work to deliver lower-cost natural gas.
“If there is no delivery system nobody gets any energy,” Petit said. “We as consumers can control some costs, look at alternative suppliers, educate people on utility suppliers and how to be as energy efficient as they can. I don’t think we have the power to change rates. People need to show up and voice their opinion. PURA crunches the numbers.”
Attorney General William Tong told media outlets Monday the Office of Consumer Counsel was looking into the delivery spikes for any possible relief for ratepayers.
“We’re taking these complaints very seriously,” Tong said. “We often oppose technical changes in the law that is ultimately going to cost more money. People have a right to be angry. I’m angry.”
Linehan became involved in the issue when her constituents called on her for help.
“We’re looking at it right now,” Linehan said. “We’re looking into any and all ways we can provide some relief for ratepayers. Whether or not we get there remains to be seen. There are some difficult hurdles … we are committed to finding some relief.”
A protest rally in front of the Eversource headquarters in Berlin is scheduled for Saturday at 2:30 p.m.