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    Monday, March 27, 2023

    Giving Eversource a run for its money?

    Last August we noted that if state legislators were looking for a way to get the attention of Eversource executives, a suggestion contained in a letter to the editor that we had recently received could do the trick. By looking at more options for how electricity is distributed, the legislature could provide the utility giant with an incentive to up its game when it comes to customer service, storm preparation and response.

    It might even find a better way to provide electric power to consumers.

    Maura J. Casey, whose writings graced these opinion pages when she worked as an editor and columnist for the opinion section, had written us that letter, pointing to the superior performance of municipal electric utilities. She suggested the legislature make it easier to expand them.

    Well, last week the Energy and Technology Committee unanimously passed onto the General Assembly a bill intended to take a close look at the idea. If enacted — and it should be — “An Act Establishing A Task Force to Study Electric Distribution Companies” would create a task force to examine the potential for municipal public utilities to expand their service areas.

    Expansion would have to involve the rules for municipal electric companies to acquire the poles and wires now owned by Eversource. The cost of purchasing the distribution systems from Eversource would be formidable, but legislation and state regulators could prevent excessive charges and the state might act as a co-partner in making such expansions possible.

    The bill was drafted by a pair of eastern Connecticut state representatives, both Republicans, Rep. Brian Lanoue of the 45th District and Rep. Doug D. Dubitsky of the 47th District. The 45th covers the towns of Griswold, Plainfield, Sterling and Voluntown and the 47th District the towns of Canterbury, Chaplin, Franklin, Hampton, Lebanon, Norwich, Scotland and Sprague. Both districts include portions of Lisbon.

    New London County is rich in municipal utilities. Groton Utilities, Norwich Public Utilities, Bozrah Light & Power, and the Jewett City Department of Public Utilities serve their respective communities. They see fewer outages in storm events, get the power back faster, and offer it at lower costs. These systems cover smaller areas, making it easier to aggressively trim trees and maintain the infrastructure, which local crews know inside and out.

    Could the municipal utilities be able to continue their strong records if their service areas were able to expand? We think so, because their goal is serving the consumer and plowing money back into the product, not enriching shareholders and providing outrageous levels of executive pay. While the exception in this part of the country, municipal utilities are the most common type of electricity provider in the United States, with about 950 municipal utilities and 853 cooperative utilities.

    The private model has not exactly worked wonders in Connecticut, with its continued complaints about poor storm response and the highest electric rates in the continental United States.

    Whether municipal utilities and the customers they now serve would ever be interested in such expansions is another matter, but that bridge can’t be crossed until the feasibility is evaluated, which would be the job of the task force. It would have to report its findings to the Energy and Technology Committee by Jan. 15, 2022.

    It could be the start of the kind of public or cooperative utilities that serve other areas of the country better and at less cost.

    “During this extremely burdensome time, Eversource irresponsibly increased delivery charges on the backs of hard-working people over the summer,” said Lanoue, who also pointed to the utility's poor response after Tropical Storm Isaias. “The right thing to do is look for additional options for the people of this state.”

    The task force would include members appointed by the Democratic and Republican leaders of the General Assembly to represent electric suppliers, municipal utilities, consumer advocates, a transmission expert, as well as representatives from the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, Office of Consumer Counsel, and the region’s Independent System Operator.

    Eversource will not want to see this proposed bill get far and it has a strong lobby. Also not helping the bill’s chances are its origins with two conservative Republicans in a legislature dominated by large Democratic majorities. But we trust that consumers would be eager to have a task force look at new options.

    If it is the public that the legislature truly wants to serve, it will approve this bill.

    The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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