OPINION: Electricity costs and Hartford politics

OPINION: Electricity costs and Hartford politics

By Len Suzio

The politicians in Hartford apparently believe in P.T. Barnum’s saying, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” On October 1, they passed legislation called “Take Back Our Grid,” intended to mislead Eversource ratepayers into thinking that the politicians have heard their outcry and have resolved Connecticut’s extraordinarily high electricity costs and unreliable service.

You may have already received a mailer from your incumbent state senator or representative boasting they passed legislation that will reduce electricity costs and improve reliability. But the reality is the legislation, dubbed “Take Back Our Grid,” does nothing to address the underlying reasons that electricity in Connecticut costs almost 90% above the national average. And even worse, our electricity costs are scheduled to go even higher — every year for the next decade!

In previous columns I have explained the factors driving Connecticut’s electricity costs through the roof. I will recap these factors and then explain how “Take Back Our Grid” fails to correct them.

First, the politicians in Hartford force utilities to purchase expensive and unreliable electricity that not only inflates electricity costs, it also makes electricity more unreliable. I am speaking specifically of solar and wind driven energy sources which are far more expensive than natural gas-powered electricity and which are “intermittent” (the sun doesn’t shine at night and the wind doesn’t blow all day) in nature.

Our politicians have ordered utilities to double the amount of such electricity they purchase during the next 10 years. Hang on to your hats for even more expensive electricity and rolling “brownouts” (check out California for a preview of how unreliable “renewable energy” leads to unreliable electricity). The new legislation does nothing to mitigate this policy. In fact, the new law recommits the state to continue the pursuit of expensive energy, with the cost borne by ratepayers.

Second, the politicians also tack on all sorts of political fees to electricity costs. Did you ever look at your Eversource bill and wonder what the “Combined Public Benefit Charge” is? Or how about the “FMCC Delivery Charge”? If you’re like most people, you have no clue what benefits you get from these added costs. All you know is that they make your electricity more expensive. Millions of dollars of these charges in the past have gone into accounts controlled by the politicians and raided for things other than their intended purposes.

Third, the regulatory “watchdog,” the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (“PURA”) is more like a regulatory lapdog, routinely approving Eversource rate requests and tolerating a very high profit margin that allows  Eversource to brag on Wall Street that it is one of the highest earning utilities in America. Eversource can pay its top boss $19 million per year ($380,000 per week!) because you are paying the highest electric rates in the continental US: all approved courtesy of the regulator that is supposed to protect consumers.

What does “Take Back Our Grid” do to correct the foregoing causes of Connecticut’s outrageous electric rates? The answer is simple: little or nothing. But it does provide lots of “window dressing” to make it look like the politicians have done something.

A good example of window dressing is what the legislation calls “Performance Based Regulation.” (“PBR”) that is intended to make electricity more “affordable” and “reliable.” That sounds good, doesn’t it? But “the devil is in the details”. The law doesn’t require PURA to “initiate a proceeding” until June 1, 2022. In other words, the regulator only has to commence proceedings some time 2 years from now. Typically, proceedings of this nature make take more than a year to finalize and another year to implement. So, we are talking about something that will not take effect for another 4 years.

Even more troubling, a stated goal of PBR is “advancing greenhouse gas reduction goals.” But this very policy is a major factor that inflates Connecticut’s highest-in-the-continental electricity costs! Connecticut utilities are now bound to purchase wind power from “Revolution Wind” at a cost of $0.0995 per kWh — almost 3 times the $0.0367 cost of wholesale electricity in 2019, according to ISO New England.

Who’s going to profit from that expensive wind-generated electricity? If you guessed Eversource, you’ve guessed right! Eversource owns a 50% stake in the Revolution Wind project. The state is forcing Eversource to purchase ultra-expensive, intermittent electricity (available only when the wind is blowing at the right speed, not too little or too much) from a company it owns a major stake in. Eversource’s $19 million a year executive must be crying all the way to the bank!

Remember these points when you hear a current state senator or representative brag how they’ve done something about high cost electricity in Connecticut. Don’t be a sucker!

Republican Len Suzio is seeking election in the 13th Senate District.

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