Gov. Lamont signs ‘Take Back the Grid Act’ into law, will grade utility companies on performance

Politics

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Governor Ned Lamont has signed House Bill 7006 – or the ‘Take Back the Grid’ bill – which will create a performance-based system to determine rates for utility companies with the state and hold them more accountable.

A new law, commonly known as the “Take Back the Grid Act” was signed into law Wednesday. It holds the utilities (electric, gas, and water companies) accountable for their performance and gives customers a fighting chance.

Two months ago, Tropical Storm Isaias blew through the state, knocking the power out for hundreds of thousands of residents and businesses.

Some were without power for days, and some more than a week. Many lost hundreds of dollars in food and medicine.

The new law sets to put a stop to that by creating a new course for how utilities are held accountable. If their performance is good, they are kept whole financially. If it is bad, they pay a penalty.

Moving forward, if a utility doesn’t get your power back on within 96-hours of a weather event, you would be eligible to receive a $250 reimbursement for spoiled food and medicine. And a $25 credit on your electric bill for every day you are in the dark.

“We realized more than ever this is not just the utility, this is life-giving. This is why we had to get it right,” said Governor Ned Lamont. “What we’re saying is, when it’s performance-based, you do a good job you get a good rate of return. You don’t do a good job, you pay a penalty.”

The state Department of Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA) will write the rules and set metrics. Their deadline is July 1, 2021.

Reimbursements for spoiled food and medicine are not available to ratepayers until after that July 1, 2021 date.

Marissa Gillett, Chair at PURA said, “Where the utilities are either rewarded or penalized for not achieving those metrics that are set transparently with multiple stakeholders.”

State Senator Paul Formica the ranking Republican on the Energy Committee says the legislation,
“Stops the train moving forward the way it has been. And redirects it toward more opportunity. Then ratepayers will benefit in the long term.”

Utilities can ask for a penalty waiver. Regulators have two weeks after a storm to approve or deny it.

The Chair of the Energy Committee State Senator Norm Needleman says it’s about making these companies better: “If we have a category 3 hurricane, nobody expects that there’s going to be restoration in 96 hours.”

But lawmakers do want performance and investments into the electric grid to be a priority.

Will the law energize a rate increase if utilities have to invest in wires, cutting trees, and poles?

State Representative David Arconti says “I anticipate this framework to increase value to our ratepayers and constituent for what they are already paying.”

The law also expands the timeline the regulators have to consider the requests of utilities. A rate-making request will be reviewed in 350-days. A merger or acquisition will be reviewed within 200-days. A debt issuance will be looked at it in 60-days. Lawmakers say this will allow a deep analysis of the requests made by utility companies.

Tricia Taskey, an Eversource spokesperson tells News 8, “We look forward to working with PURA to ensure that the new measures enacted give Connecticut electric customers access to safer, more reliable, and more affordable energy.”

Taskey also writes, “We appreciate all the effort lawmakers put into this legislation which includes performance-based regulations, holds us accountable if we fall short in meeting certain standards and acknowledges when we exceed the standards. The new law also appropriately delegates the implementation of the bill to PURA.”

What about the Eversource July rate increase the state regulators suspended? Regulators will make a ruling by the end of the year. The governor and commissioner of the Department of Energy and the Environment say they are concerned that the ISO New England council that oversees the electrical grid Connecticut is reliant on doesn’t have checks and balances in place. They will be looking to other New England states to join Connecticut in the fight for a seat at the table when deciding energy policy for the grid.

Meantime, storm response hearings are scheduled for the week of Oct. 20. PURA will hear from customers and the utilities and towns. Then an evidence-based hearing on the issue will take place in December where the attorney general and the consumer council will weigh in on the performance of Eversource and United Illuminating after Tropical Storm Isaias and subsequent tornadoes over the summer.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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