‘Take Back the Grid Act’: Legislators considering penalties for Eversource, UI on lack of response to storm damage, outages

Politics

(WTNH) — Legislators are considering a bill that would allow the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) to hit Eversource and United Illuminating with penalties if 10% or more if customers are without power for more than 48 hours after an emergency like extreme weather.

The Energy and Technology Committee held a virtual public hearing Tuesday, giving customers a chance to speak out on the emergency response by utility companies and recent rate hikes. The hearing is expected to last for around 10 hours.

The proposed bill, called the “Take Back the Grid Act,” is 41-pages and is very comprehensive. It covers electric, gas, water, and telecommunication companies.

Among many of the ‘teeth’ in the legislation, if passed consumers could get money for losses in the most recent storms and if needed take the utilities to civil court.

The penalties are retroactive to storms that happened on or before July 1, 2020.

Customer Susan Young said at the hearing, “These are hard times for families. I mean, we need the electricity to do everything, normal things: keeping the food in the refrigerator, keeping our lights on, charging that cell phone.”

State Senator Paul Formica, the Republican ranking member of the Energy Committee challenged the utilities, “The utilities need to understand that this very serious conversation has to happen.”

Lawmakers are also considering giving state regulators more power to impose fines for bad performance.

“Performance-based regulation is about flipping that on its head so you’re focused more on customers being able to glean the value out of it,” said Commissioner Marissa Gillett Public Utility Regulatory Authority.

Utilities would have to pay customers $500 for expired food and medication if they’re in the dark for 72 hours or more. They would also have to add a $125 bill credit to customers for each day with no power for more than 72 hours.

“We have a [tariff] at PURA that specifies that it’s not an obligation of the company pay for food and spoilage and medicine in the event of an act of God,” Eversource CEO Jim Judge said.

He also described the penalties “as the most onerous proposed anywhere in the U.S.”

At the virtual hearing, he reiterated his concern over penalties, saying, “it’s going to have devastating cost impacts to customers moving forward.”

The biggest shock to utilities; if power isn’t restored after 48 hours a fine of 10 percent of the annual distribution revenue would be lodged. Eversource estimates that’s $110 million. For United Illuminating it would be far less.

The safety hatch for the utilities in this proposed legislation is if a storm knocks out power to more than 870,000 customers, then utilities are off the hook for providing that $125/day credit.

State Department of Energy and the Environment Commissioner Katie Dykes says the proposed bill will “put us in a better position in terms of having affordable electric rates in the state.”

United Illuminating CEO Anthony Marone said compensation for lost food and medicine “may be appropriate.” Adding, he supports being held accountable when “the company falls short of the metrics.”

The bill includes language that doesn’t allow utility companies to recover costs of fines/penalties from customers, but instead from shareholders. A special legislative session is scheduled at the end of the month.

To view the joint pre-filed testimony of Eversource, click here.

To view the joint pre-filed testimony of United Illuminating, click here.

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