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Temperatures rise in battle against electric rate hikes

Temperatures rise in battle against electric rate hikes

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MERIDEN — Mayor Kevin Scarpati and the City Council plan to draft a letter to Eversource and the state’s utility regulatory agencies calling for them to halt and investigate spiking electric rates that they say are harming consumers and the state’s already fragile economy. 

“They might have the ability to pass on this increase (to customers). And they did. But it does’t make it right,” Scarpati said.

Scarpati compared the decision by Eversource the recent city budget process. The city could have raised taxes, or sewer and water rates, to cover services, but opted not to because of the financial burden it would place on individuals and businesses, Scarpati said.

Eversource has responded to the public outcry by citing three factors which it said contributed to delivery rate increases that have in some cases tripled: Customers used less power during a mild winter; a contract for higher cost, carbon free nuclear energy with Millstone II that went into effect July 1; and federal transmission and congestion charges. 

But Scarpati and others want to know if during these precarious times, Eversource or other electricity suppliers absorbed any of the added costs. 

“This morning, my question to Eversource is ‘how much did you pass on the Millstone agreement to ratepayers?’” Scarpati said. “Our homeowners, businesses and residents should not be carrying 100 percent of this increase.”

Lawmakers responded to constituent complaints this week by asking the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to suspend the rate increases while it investigates. 

State Rep. Dave Arconti, D-Danbury, the House chairman of the Energy and Technology Committee, and leading members of the committee drafted a letter to PURA calling for the suspension. 

“The public health crisis coupled with the extreme heat experienced in Connecticut this summer, has likely affected the 2020 electricity consumption forecasts for both of the state’s electric utilities,” Arconti wrote. “Because so many of a bill’s components are linked to a customer’s energy usage, it is important that PURA thoroughly vet both utilities’ proposed rate increases to ensure that neither utility is over-recovering.” 

PURA responded by announcing it has accepted the letter as a motion for reconsideration and will hold a public hearing. It also advised consumers to contact their utility company and PURA if they are struggling to pay their bills.

“PURA continues to be mindful of the public health emergency and urges Connecticut customers to contact their utility company if they need assistance with their electric bills by inquiring whether they are eligible for a financial hardship protection program or to enroll in a COVID-19 Payment Program offered by their utility company,” according to a press statement. “Customers may also contact PURA’s consumer services representatives with any inquiries or complaints related to this matter, which will be accounted for as part of the open investigation.”

State Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, who raised the issue with Arconti after constituents complained to her office, acknowledged contradictory statements by the power companies and said she was grateful to see action taken. 

“I’m glad to see PURA take our concerns seriously, and work to expeditiously investigate and review the increases in delivery charges,” Linehan said in an email. “I will continue to advocate for a public hearing on the issue to address differing statements from Eversource and Millstone regarding the source and reasoning for the increase. Ratepayers deserve transparency from the utilities which serve them, and useless spin and scapegoating hurts this transparency. I implore PURA and Eversource to pause or reverse this increase during the investigatory process, and provide relief to ratepayers immediately.” 

Connecticut ranks among the top four states in electricity delivery charges, said Don Klepper Smith, chief economist and researcher at DataCore Partners. He feels the latest increase is a threat to a weakened economy and consumer confidence. 

“Lets put it in perspective,” Smith said. “During one of the worst recessions dating back to World War II, this is siphoning off discretionary income, undermining economic growth, and promoting downside confidence when we’re already facing an uphill battle. The costs of doing business matter greatly because research shows that they are primary determinants of long-term job growth.”

PURA’s Education and Outreach Unit receives correspondence from ratepayers by phone, toll-free in Connecticut at 1-800-382-4586 or by email at pura.information@ct.gov.

mgodin@record-journal.com203-317-2255Twitter: @Cconnbiz

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