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Eversource proves neither affordable nor reliable

In 2019, Gov. Lamont promised to generate all of Connecticut's power from renewable sources of energy by 2040. One may debate whether this goal is achievable, but one stark fact is clear – if we are to rely on electricity, rather than fossil fuels, to power our economy, we need power that is affordable for businesses and ratepayers and an electrical grid that is resilient, reliable and robust. Based on Eversource's recent performance, we are in big trouble.

Just over two weeks ago, Eversource customers opened their electricity bills and made an alarming discovery; their bills had soared. PURA, the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority that oversees our deregulated utilities, Eversource and United Illuminating, had recently approved a rate increase to take effect July 1. Faced with customer outrage, Eversource at first attempted to blame the increase on the historic power purchase agreement championed by Governor Lamont, between Eversource and UI and Dominion Energy, to purchase power from Dominion Energy's two Millstone nuclear power plants. The deal preserved this resource, which supplies half of Connecticut's electricity and 90% of its carbon-free power, along with the 1,500 jobs and its $1.6 billion annual contribution to the Connecticut economy. The purchase price, guaranteed for 10 years at 4.99 cents per kilowatt-hour, is the lowest carbon free price in Connecticut and 32% lower than Eversource's standard offer rate, and guaranteed Connecticut's clean energy future.

It soon became clear that this attempt to pass the price increase buck had no basis in fact. Eversource's own filing with the Public Utility Regulatory Authority states: "As reflected in this filing and the attached exhibits, the impact of the July 1st rate change for a typical residential (Rate 1) Standard Service customer using 700 kWh per month will be a rate increase of 3.5 % or $5.58 per month." Indeed, United Illuminating, the state's other power distributor, which serves 335,000 customers, also sells electricity from the New England grid supplied by Millstone and other generators. A spokesman reported "no big changes" to rates in July due to Millstone."

In response to the outcry about the Eversource price hike, I, along with many other legislators on both sides of the aisle, called for an immediate suspension of the rate increases and a hearing to investigate the basis for those increases. Fortunately, PURA has both suspended the increase and opened an official docket. I commend the authority for its decision and look forward to submitting questions and hearing Eversource's explanation and answers.

However, ratepayers' unhappiness with Eversource is no longer confined to the recent rate increases. Hundreds of thousands of Connecticut residents were left without power following storm Isaias; both Eversource and United Illuminating are being faulted for their inadequate response to the storm. I echo Governor Lamont's call for PURA to conduct a thorough investigation of the state's public utility companies. As I write this, Eversource was predicting full restoration would not come until Tuesday, more than a week after the storm.

Eversource stated on the company's earnings call with analysts 10 days ago that the bulk of their profits going forward would be driven by transmission and distribution charges. If that is indeed the case, it is even more vital that the rationale behind the increased charges be examined in depth and that the company actually distribute and transmit electricity to their customers reliably!

Post Super Storm Sandy, the Connecticut legislature passed a number of measures to prevent the kind of prolonged and catastrophic power loss that resulted from that and prior storms. It is time to revisit that legislation to ensure its requirements were implemented and are currently being followed. If not, what should be done to address this? On a national level, as the country looks at infrastructure investment, grid modernization and hardening must be a top priority. In a world that relies increasingly on electricity, our power supply must be reliable, resilient and above all, affordable.

Connecticut residents pay the highest electricity prices in the continental United States. Surely they deserve better than this.

State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, a Republican, represents the 37th District towns of East Lyme and Salem. She serves on the Energy and Technology Committee.

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