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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    Eversource customers to face higher bills, but it could have been worse

    J.W. “Bill” Sheehan lives in an all-electric home in Waterford he has owned for more than half a century, and he currently pays about $435 a month on his energy bill, or more than $5,000 a year.

    But that’s based on the current relatively low 8 cents a kilowatt-hour he’s paying to electric supplier Constellation Energy thanks to a two-year deal he signed up for in 2022. His agreement runs out in December, and Eversource has scheduled a major billing increase July 1 based mostly on fixed costs the company says it has no control over that will send the public benefits portion of Sheehan’s bill about $48-a-month higher.

    “In November, I’ll be looking around,” Sheehan, a longtime fixture on the Waterford Finance Committee, on which he served as chairman for years, said in a phone interview.

    Eversource has said the public benefits bill will be largely offset by a planned decrease in electricity costs starting July 1, making the average increase for its customers about $8 a month. The public benefits portion of the electric bill covers such items as payment assistance for those with low incomes, various energy-efficiency programs the state requires and scheduled rate increases in statewide power purchase agreements that Eversource said were set up by the state to rise most radically at the tail end, meaning now.

    Luckily, based on the latest figures released by Eversource, the price of electricity for their customers will be declining nearly 39% for the six-month period beginning July 1. This means Sheehan will likely be able to find a rate even lower than the 8.99 cents a kilowatt hour (down from 14.7 cents) announced by Eversource if he does what he’s always done: shop around for the best deal.

    By comparison, Groton Public Utilities is currently charging 8.68 cents a killowatt hour for electricity, and Norwich Public Utilities 4.33 cents.

    “A lower price for energy is certainly good news for customers, and we’re glad it will help to largely offset an increase in the public-benefits portion of the bill covering the cost to run state-mandated programs,” said Eversource’s Connecticut president of electric operations Steve Sullivan in a news release.

    Eversource spokeswoman Jamie Ratliff said in a phone interview that there are four billing areas on monthly statements sent to customers: supply, delivery, transmission and public benefits. She added that only about 40% of a typical bill can be attributed to charges that help Eversource’s bottom line; the rest are pass-through costs mandated by the state.

    Of the $48 in extra monthly public benefits charges that will be added to customer bills starting in July, $47 can be attributed to these mandates, she said.

    State Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, who chairs the Senate’s Energy and Technology Committee, called Eversource’s dramatic lowering of its electricity rate as of July 1 “a great thing for ratepayers.” He has said that the large increase in the public benefits portion of the bill can largely be attributed to a 2019 deal struck by lawmakers to ensure the Millstone nuclear power plants in Waterford remained open.

    “Above all else, it is meaningful and relieving to know the people of Connecticut will experience less of a cost burden than expected,” Needleman said in a statement. “Our policies look to the future, but you can never build major market shocks like pandemics or wars into them, and those impacts on the world still influence our markets today.”

    It’s the volatility of electricity pricing that seems to upset many customers, according to Eversource.

    “Unfortunately, volatility in customer bills remains an issue, and we’re committed to helping to mitigate those impacts for customers, which is why we’ve proactively proposed solutions that would create rate stability to help businesses and families plan their budgets,” Eversource executive Sullivan said in his release.

    Company spokeswoman Ratliff said one solution would be for power purchase agreements to include smaller increases all along the way rather than a flat rate that sees a large bump up at the end.

    On a personal level, local residents say they save money by shopping around for the best rates by searching online at EnergizeCT.com. As of Thursday, only Think Energy LLC and Town Square Energy were listing lower rates than Eversource starting July 1, and for only a six-month billing period.

    Keith J. Robbins of New London said he paid only about $85 in a recent electricity billing cycle, though that can nearly double during the holidays when his family pays for outdoor Christmas lighting. Part of the solution for him involves turning off lights and the television when they aren’t needed, but another large part of it involves finding the cheapest rates by finding an alternative to Eversource.

    “We have done very well by playing the market,” Robbins said in a phone interview.

    Robbins added that he looks for the lowest rate offered over the longest period possible without a fee for transferring or other charges for early termination. Sheehan, the Waterford homeowner, said until recently he had been shopping around every three or four months to get the lowest rate possible.

    Still, Robbins and Sheehan are somewhat unusual in their shopping-around mentality when it comes to electricity. According to Eversource statistics, more than three-quarters of its customer base remain loyal to the company by paying for its standard service.

    The state Office of Consumer Counsel has urged ratepayers in the past to utilize the EnergizeCT.com website, saying that in 2023 alone alternative suppliers saved Connecticut customers a collective $107 million.

    Other Eversource programs exist for customers in need, including its Matching Payment Program that subtracts a dollar from customers’ bills for every dollar they pay and every dollar they receive from the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program. Also, the New Start Program will subtract a portion of what is owed each month for those who get back on track with on-time monthly payments.

    Those with a financial hardship may also be eligible for the Electric Bill Discount program that can reduce payments by as much as half. In addition, the Flexible Payment Plan program can allow residential customers to spread their bills over as much as an 18-month period.

    For information on any of these programs, visit Customers Eversource.com/BillHelp or call 800-286-2828. For help with bill stabilization, visit Eversource.com/Solutions.

    Eversource as of May 2 has resumed utility service shutoff notices as its operations have reverted to pre-pandemic rules. Those seeking help are being directed to the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program (apply online at https://ct.gov/heatinghelp, visit 211.ct.org or call 211 for help).

    l.howard@theday.com

    Tips to reduce your electric bill

    On average, Connecticut customers use 35% more electricity during the summer months with air conditioners, fans and other appliances working overtime to keep things cool inside. Eversource encourages customers to take advantage of the many energy efficiency solutions and payment programs offered before the hot weather arrives.

    Things customers can do to manage energy usage this summer:

    Keep air conditioners set as warm as comfort allows. For every degree higher on the thermostat, the air conditioner will use 1-3% less electricity.

    Don’t block air flow. Keep air vents clear of obstructions such as furniture, curtains, and rugs.

    Operate major appliances during the cooler parts of the day. Energy is conserved by using appliances like clothes washers and dryers early in the morning or late in the evening when there is also less demand on the electric system.

    Keep blinds closed when it’s hot out to prevent unwanted heat from entering a home through windows. Using curtains, shades, and blinds can lower indoor temperatures by up to 20 degrees.

    Switch to ENERGY STAR®-certified LED lights. The energy-efficient bulbs run cooler and last up to 25 times longer than incandescent lights.

    Set ceiling fans to rotate counterclockwise and at a higher speed in the summer to circulate the air more effectively, creating a cooling, wind chill effect. Remember to turn the fan off when leaving the room.

    SOURCE: Eversource Energy

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