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    Monday, April 15, 2024

    Conley proposes bill requiring legislature to approve rate increases for electricity, natural gas

    Groton ― State Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton, said she has received an influx of calls from people concerned about increased electricity costs.

    “I’ve heard from business owners. I’ve heard from residents,” Conley said Monday. “I’ve heard from a lot of folks who just say: ‘I opened my mail, or I opened my email, and I saw this bill and how am I going to pay for this? and what can you do about it?’”

    So Conley is proposing legislation that would require the General Assembly to vote to approve rate increases set by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA). The proposed bill has been referred to the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee.

    Conley said Eversource customers are now facing a “dramatic increase.” A lot of people in her district, which covers parts of Groton and New London, have electric heat and are facing both usage increases due to the cold weather and increases in pricing. She estimates she received more than 20 to 30 phone calls about the increase.

    Conley said that while she can make phone calls and complain, as a legislator, she does not have a voice in approving the rates. PURA is responsible for regulating the rates and services of Eversource Energy and The United Illuminating Company, according to PURA’s website. The news of the bill was first reported by CT Insider.

    PURA issued a statement that it “looks forward to working with our legislative colleagues on any and all proposals that increase transparency and accountability in utility regulation.”

    State Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, who co-chairs the Energy and Technology Committee, said he will have further conversations with Conley to learn more about her proposal. He said PURA operates almost like a court and he raised the question of whether the legislature should act as a court of appeals and tell the regulatory authority to go back to the drawing board.

    “It could be subject to political winds at the time and I’m not sure that that’s necessarily the best thing, but I understand the frustration, and I’m not opposed to having a conversation about what’s the best way to tackle it,” he said.

    State Reps. Aundré Bumgardner, D-Groton, and David Michel, D-Stamford, are co-sponsoring the bill.

    “Unlike public power utilities, investor owned utilities, such as Eversource, overcharged their customers throughout the pandemic,” Bumgardner said. “Connecticut already guarantees Eversource a profit margin of 9.25% so every year they have continued to fleece CT ratepayers.”

    He also said he has reviewed some of the meeting minutes and tapes of PURA engaging with Eversource and said the company could not answer questions posed by the PURA chair regarding why they failed to inform ratepayers about cheaper and better options than the standard service, which the company has an obligation to do.

    Bumgardner said Groton Utilities, which would not be affected by the bill, has had on average just a 9% rate increase, whereas Eversource customers are seeing “exponential rate increases” in electric services.

    Eversource responds

    “We know how challenging increased energy costs are for our customers who are already frustrated with rising prices for other basic, daily needs,” Mitch Gross, Eversource spokesman, said in a statement. “While we have no control over the cost of energy, we’re here to work with our customers one-on-one on ways to reduce their energy usage and connect them with assistance programs, flexible payment plans or other resources to help them manage their monthly bill.”

    Gross said “regional electric supply prices have reached all-time highs due to increased global demand for and the high cost of natural gas, the war in Ukraine, extreme weather and other issues.”

    “New England relies heavily on natural gas for its electric generation, and volatility in the natural gas market significantly impacts the electric supply prices we pay to generators for producing the power our customers use,” Gross added. “We only charge customers what we pay generators for producing the power – we do not earn a profit on the cost of electricity.”

    With new supply rates, which went into effect Jan. 1, the standard rate for Eversource residential customers increased from 12.1 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to 24.2 cents per kWh. Last winter, it was 11.5 cents per kWh. The new rates mean an average Eversource residential electric customer “could see an increase of approximately 48% over their current monthly bill - approximately $85 per month – on the supply portion of the bill,” Gross said.

    “We understand there’s been a request for legislation and look forward to seeing the specific language,” Gross said in regard to Conley’s proposal. “Until we can review the bill, it would be inappropriate to comment.”

    k.drelich@theday.com

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