Rate Hike, Storm Lead to Calls to Break Up Eversource

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Connecticut regulators heard calls Monday to break up the state’s largest electric utility in the wake of large rate increases and lengthy delays in restoring power following Tropical Storm Isaias.

The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority held what was expected to be a day-long hearing by videoconference on Eversource rate hikes that went into effect on July 1, which led to the doubling of some customers bills. Those hikes were followed by the Aug. 4 storm that knocked out power to about 1 million homes and businesses and left many customers in the dark for more than a week.

State regulators held an hours-long hearing on Monday to look into recent Eversource rate hikes and heard testimony from some calling to break up the utility giant.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, urged PURA to consider several actions including breaking up Eversource and creating a publicly owned state-based utility. He also urged regulators to roll back the rate increase, issue refunds for customers who suffered losses during the tropical storm and eliminate guaranteed profits for the company.

PURA has put Eversource's rate hikes on hold while state regulators review the increase. Meanwhile, customers held a rally to protest the rising rates.

“I think that the time for tinkering is over,” Blumenthal said. “I think that we need to think big about becoming smaller, more responsive and smarter in the way we do public utilities and deliver power to the consumers of Connecticut.”

Gov. Ned Lamont, a former cable television executive, argued the electric utilities need to have their rate of return tied to the amount of time it takes to restore power during outages. He called on PURA to penalize Eversource and UI for poor responses.

“The disconnect between pay and performance is shocking to me,” Lamont told the regulators. “I think the days of getting a 9 1/2% rate of return for just showing up is over.”

Eversource officials have noted that PURA approved the rate increase. The utility said contributors to higher bills included increased electricity usage in July because of hot weather and a state mandate requiring Eversource to buy electricity from the Millstone nuclear power plant in Waterford. The company's vice president of distribution rates, Doug Horton, walked those in attendance through their bill, which even he admitted to being confusing.

"Our profits do not increase when residential electricity usages increase," Horton said.

According to Eversource, the distribution price they charge and what profit they make is required to go through a review with PURA at least every four years. But when there's an over or under collection, there's a process the company goes through to mitigate that.

Thousands of people are calling for answers after seeing their energy bills spike this month.

In turn, PURA chair Marissa Paslick Gillett wanted Eversource to clarify to customers that PURA did no just recently approve the hike, and she said she's heard Eversource leaders pointing to them as a scapegoat.

"To be fair to PURA, we made the initial filing in June in that point in time we didn’t have full visibility and to the customer bill impact that we’re going to happen and certainly PURA didn’t either," Horton said.

The increases were temporarily suspended by the authority on July 31 amid complaints from customers and state officials.

Monday’s hearing was expected to last into the evening. It will be followed this week by a legislative hearing on both the rate increase and storm response.

Eversource will have until September 1 to answer questions for PURA.

PURA chair Marissa Paslick Gillett said the group has received more than 1,000 letters from the public commenting on their electric bills.

Eversource Customer Testimony

“My son had a heat stroke. We ended up in the hospital. I think Eversource has gotten a little too big for themselves," Denise Rice, an Eversource customer, told officials at the hearing.

Some spoke about Eversource's response to Tropical Storm Isaias. Others expressed concerns about their bills. But not everyone was focused on going after the utlity.

“Let's stop blaming Eversource, let's go to the government who is supposed to protect us as consumers. It’s outrageous," Eversource customer Jon O. said.

Some expressed anger and fear.

"I’m scared to death for myself and for my children. We are in a global pandemic. And I may not be here someday. But I have to look out for people what are we going to do," customer Pammy told those in attendance.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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