Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont signed a bill on Wednesday that will increase accountability for utility companies.
The bill signing ceremony comes less than a week after the Connecticut House of Representatives and Senate passed the bill.
House Bill 7006, An Act Concerning Emergency Response by Electric Distribution Companies, the Regulation of Other Public Utilities and Nexus Provisions for Certain Disaster-Related or Emergency-Related Work Performed in the State will require that the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) create a performance-based rating to measure a company's performance in several aspects including safety, reliability, emergency response and affordability.
“This is a natural monopoly and nobody else holds these folks accountable on behalf of the consumers and behalf of the ratepayers than good sound regulation," Lamont said.
While the company is not named in the bill, lawmakers made it clear much of it was targeted at Eversource. The company has been under scrutiny after backlash from a steep rate increase and a response during Tropical Storm Isaias that many felt was inadequate.
During last Wednesday’s debate, both Democratic and Republican legislators relayed their constituents’ frustration with Eversource, the state’s largest electric distribution company, for its response to the storm, which came on the heels of a controversial rate increase that’s now being investigated by regulators. They spoke of elderly constituents without water because they had no electricity and rely on well water, and municipal officials and residents who had communication difficulties with Eversource about restoration efforts.
Eversource CEO Jim Judge told state legislators in August that he understood many customers were frustrated by the company’s response and lengthy outages, especially given the pandemic, but insisted the company was well-prepared for the storm. He said Eversource has made numerous improvements over the years that have resulted in improved service and reliability.
In a statement released Wednesday, Eversource spokesperson Tricia Modifica wrote:
"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. 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."
United Illuminating, which is also affected by the bill, also released a statement:
"We appreciate the leaders of the Energy and Technology Committee, and lawmakers from both parties, for their commitment to accountability and sensitivity to customer rate impacts as they drafted this legislation.
"UI supports performance-based regulations that establish clearly defined standards and expectations, and that recognize when those standards are met or exceeded. This legislation moves us in that direction.
"We look forward to working closely with PURA to ensure that these standards are developed and implemented in such a way that they can help achieve meaningful improvement to storm performance without undue impact or burden on our customers."
Besides a new performance-based system for determining rates, financial incentives and penalties for electric distribution companies, the legislation would also require customers to be credited $25 a day and reimbursed $250 in compensation for spoiled food and medication during lengthy outages of 96 consecutive hours after an emergency. That would have amounted to $19 million for the 255,000 customers left without power after four days, lawmakers said.