(WTNH) — Governor Ned Lamont spoke at a Monday public hearing hosted by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) on Eversource’s recent rate increase.
Usually, these hearings happen in a crowded room in New Britain. We don’t do crowded rooms anymore due to COVID-19, so this is all happening over Zoom.
Out of the meeting, we heard a lot about the pandemic, the tropical storm, and about Millstone nuclear power plant.
We also heard from customers who were shocked to find their July electric bills were hundreds of dollars higher than usual. More than 1,000 frustrated customers e-mailed testimony into the hearing Monday, some waited for hours to be heard.
The company says the state forces them to buy power from Millstone, the state’s one nuclear plant. They say that electricity costs more due to the cheap price of natural gas. What many people have noticed, however, is that what has gone up the most on their bills is not the cost of the power itself.
It’s the delivery charges that have really skyrocketed.
John Ottens and Eversource customer said Monday, “we have the highest energy rates in the country…why isn’t anyone trying to get this down?”
Sticker shock on July bills caused protests. Which in turn caused regulators to suspend the rates.
The bottom line: the PURA allowed Eversource an administrative adjustment in June. But the utility sold it as an approved “rate hike” to customers.
Doug Horton, Vice President of Eversource Distribution Rates said, “We are not using that as a scapegoat or an out to try and put the blame on anyone’s doorstep. If I could go back in time and provide more information and change…change the filing to incorporate the full effects of what the customers would have ultimately experienced I would have done that.”
The confusion over terminology was not revealed until later in the day. Leaving legislators in the dark. Regardless, they want answers.
State Representative Holly Cheeseman of Old Lyme said, “Yes, by all means, hold the distribution companies to account. Yes, by all means, hold PURA to account.”
State Representative Gail Lavielle of Wilton added, “Do not hide the company’s CEO. His absence is shocking!”
Many customers complained very publicly about the increased cost several weeks ago. Then, along came Tropical Storm Isaias, and thousands of people lost power – some for up to 10 days.
That prompted more complaining about storm readiness. Eversource has already said it did everything it could to prepare for Isaias. As for the higher bills, Eversource says that the pandemic caused people to stay home more, running air conditioners, TVs, and computers.
Denise Rice another Eversource customer said of her experience during the long-term power outage, “my son had a heat stroke and we ended up in the hospital. Eversource needs to be broken up.”
State Senator Will Haskell who represents the town of Westport said, “I’m personally not going to forget the seniors who called my office who were at risk of overheating and the asthma patients who were having trouble breathing.”
“Families are struggling to clothe their children and pay their rent,” added U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal.
Elected officials asked state regulators to consider breaking up the Eversource monopoly, roll back the rates, to prioritize communication and grid infrastructure, and finally to ask federal regulators to force refunds or rebates for Eversource customers.
Governor Ned Lamont said, “The disconnect between pay and performance is shocking to me.”
The governor is pushing for reform to tie incentives to performance. He will be asking PURA to look at that as they weigh next steps with the utility.
Lawmakers may also tackle this reform in the upcoming session.
Eversource said they’re not over-charging and they apologize for saying regulators approved a rate hike when they did not.
Later this week, legislative leaders on the Energy Committee will hold hearings to dive into the rate hike and storm response by Eversource.
Eversource’s Chief Executive said he would participate.
PURA will hold another virtual hearing in October to allow the public to weigh in on the utility’s performance after the recent tropical storm.
Members of the public can write in about their own experiences by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. and include docket number 20-01-01 in the subject line of the email.