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Eversource shames the politicians courting it

You don't have to look much further than New London to see the way that Connecticut politicians have coddled Eversource, the state's electric utility Goliath.

Poor New London Mayor Michael Passero, our outmatched David, has been trying since February to get Eversource and its wind partner, the Danish utility giant Ørsted, to reimburse the city for the $157 million in improvements for wind development at State Pier that the city can't tax.

It was Gov. Ned Lamont who left Passero in the lurch, signing the deal to essentially cede the state's port over to the rich utilities for an incredibly lucrative wind development without any allowance to compensate the city.

Passero, given no seat at the table or any leverage at all by the governor, has been left to plead on his own. More than five months later, the utilities have offered nothing to satisfy the city's modest requests for reasonable compensation for the commercial development on untaxable state-controlled land.

You can almost hear the utility executives, with their seven-digit paydays, laughing all the way to their stockholder meetings.

The governor signed our big deal, promised to pay all our construction cost overruns, and told the city, with no negotiating leverage, to make its own deal. Ha. Ha. Ha.

"As of now, it seems Orsted/Eversource have been empowered to believe they can make millions, perhaps billions, in corporate profits while cheating the poorest tax base in the state out of its measly property tax obligation," Passero wrote in an email Friday, when I asked about the status of the talks.

Another session in the unresolved negotiations is planned in the next week.

"Apparently ... The people in New London don't deserve the crumbs off the table," Passero wrote.

Not only did Lamont leave New London and its mayor twisting in the wind, but so did all the region's legislators who were complicit, praising the deal that so badly shortchanges the poor city of New London.

Indeed, it wasn't until constituents began ringing politicians' phones, first over rising electric rates and soaring pandemic bills and then about a woeful storm response, that politicians began finding a voice to criticize Goliath.

Lamont, whose appointee approved the very rate increase that stuck in ratepayers' craws this summer, lashed out as if it was another country, not his own utility regulators, who authorized the increase.

With the state in an emergency because of apparent Eversource incompetence in addressing outages, Lamont again found a voice to criticize the giant utility, while also offering to send in taxpayer-funded National Guard soldiers to help the rich company.

Even Democratic state Sen. Norman Needleman, Essex first selectman and chair of the legislature's Energy & Technology Committee, managed to criticize Eversource for the storm response.

I guess there's nothing like constituents without power in a heat wave to light a fire under politicians, especially right after those voters have just been sent big new electric bills.

I'm not sure that any legislator has been a bigger Eversource coddler than the head of the energy committee.

Needleman was a staunch proponent and worked behind the scenes to help calm the scandal-tossed waters at the Connecticut Port Authority and see through to its finish the wind deal for State Pier that cut out New London.

Needleman's committee also has done nothing to bring transparency to the process by which the state awards lucrative wind deals to guarantee Eversource and other utilities above-market rates that are hidden from consumers until they take effect.

That's right, the state gives permission for the wind developers to charge a specific rate above market for the wind-made electricity. But they won't tell consumers what those charges will be until they turn up on bills. It's a state-kept secret — honestly — made, they say, to protect the utilities.

If any of the region's legislators want to prove me wrong, now is the time to speak up. Ladies and gentlemen, help Mayor Passero in his fight against the Goliath you've all helped create.

I'm sure you know there's an election coming.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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