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    Local Columns
    Thursday, June 20, 2024

    OPINION: Maybe ever-pricey Eversource needs a new CEO

    You might think that a big monopolistic utility, which charges Connecticut residents some of the highest electric rates in the country, would tread a little lightly as it gets ready to deliver yet another staggering rate increase this summer.

    But Joe Nolan, CEO of utility giant Eversource, seems clueless these days about navigating public opinion in Connecticut as the state maneuvers into a tougher new regulatory stance.

    Indeed, Nolan this month threw a big elbow at Connecticut politicians and regulators making a surprise announcement in a conference call with Wall Street analysts that the utility was planning to withdraw $500 million in planned upgrades to the electric grid.

    Nolan whined in the call about the changing regulatory environment in which Connecticut seeks to make rate increases based on utility performance rather than just a straight mathematic return on investment.

    Nolan was widely believed to be suggesting, with his threats of forgoing investments in the grid, that he wanted Gov. Ned Lamont to withdraw support of chief regulator Marissa Gillett, chairman of Public Utilities Regulatory Authority.

    Instead, Lamont promptly announced he was reappointing the chief regulator to a four-year term.

    I have to say Lamont’s swift return of Nolan’s punch, a threat to withdraw improvements to the grid, was a delicious response to the arrogance of the utility executive, who was apparently trying to bully the state.

    It backfired.

    Not only did Nolan’s nasty threat to the grid draw a quick response from the governor in support of his top regulator, but state Sen. Norm Needleman of Essex, a co-chair of the Energy and Technology Committee, suggested the state might have to look closely at the franchise agreements that gives Eversource its monopoly.

    That’s a game-changing threat.

    If I were a decision-making Eversource board member, I would be paying close attention to how the Connecticut governor and the leading lawmaker on energy policy were sparring with your CEO.

    And it looks like the $18-million-a-year executive ― he doesn’t make so much when the stock remains in the doldrums ― is not winning in his attack on the state.

    Nolan, with the burden sinking revenues and stock price, is not having a good turn at the helm of Eversource.

    After all, it was on his watch that Eversource had to take more than a $1 billion write-off on its failed investments in offshore wind, a business venture it had to abandon.

    Nolan seemed especially hostile to Lamont in the call with analysts when he suggested Eversource was responsible for creating a “clean energy” port in New London.

    “That clean energy port down there should put them on the map for clean energy,” Nolan said, according to reporting by the Hartford Courant.

    That is, to be kind, a bizarre retelling of the story of New London’s State Pier, which we all know Lamont spent tens of millions of borrowed public tax dollars on for the direct benefit of utilities Eversource and Ørsted.

    It’s hardly the governor’s fault that Eversource abandoned its offshore wind ambitions, which Connecticut subsidized so liberally before losing so much money on the venture.

    I hope Eversource directors are paying attention.

    Angry, arrogant, clueless and overpaid are not things you like to see in a chief executive as you are raising electric rates some 19%.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.

    d.collins@theday.com

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