CT lawmakers demand rollback on Eversource rates during pandemic
lConnecticut legislators are asking state regulators to suspend elements of Eversource Energy bills that increased at the start of July, arguing that the pandemic has forced families to amp up air conditioning with kids staying home from summer camps.
A historically hot July has compounded the problem, with some customers complaining on Facebook of electric bills having doubled. Eversource announced last month that base rates under its default “standard offer” service would be 22 percent lower over the back half of 2020. That has been offset by muggy July weather that has increased the use of air conditioning to keep cool, with many homeowners running basement dehumidifiers around the clock as well to ward off mold.
A few underlying elements of Eversource’s delivery rates did increase, and if both Democrat and Republican leaders in the Connecticut General Assembly get their way, the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority would roll those back to their June levels pending further review. PURA confirmed Wednesday it has opened a formal docket in response to the lawmakers’ request.
“PURA will rule on the motion as soon as possible,” stated Marissa Gillett, PURA chair, in an email response Wednesday to a query. “If PURA’s legal authority to undertake the suspension is raised by parties, this could be a matter that is addressed in PURA’s motion ruling.
A federally mandated “congestion” charge on Eversource bills had its underlying formula changed as of July 1 to include higher rates paid for electricity from Dominion Energy’s Millstone nuclear plant in Waterford. Dominion demanded the change last year, as operators of plants powered by natural gas saw prices drop to the point where they could charge less than Millstone, with Gov. Ned Lamont’s office brokering a new power purchase agreement last year months after taking office.
Rep. David Arconti, D-Danbury, said legislators want PURA to explore any regulatory powers at its disposal to suspend any elements on bills that have increased. Arconti co-chairs the Connecticut General Assembly’s Energy and Technology Committee.
“They as the regulators have to make the decision whether or not they have the ability to [return] rates back to the June level, and conduct a thorough review of the reasons why Eversource has tacked on these cost-recovery mechanisms in such a way they did,” Arconti said Wednesday. “I think we could direct PURA ... to work through the transparency issue on utility bills.”
An Eversource spokesperson confirmed Wednesday the company is aware of the request and that it is considering “any and all options” without specifying whether those include any unilateral adjustment to rates during the summer months. Both Eversource and Avangrid are considering payment deferral requests by any customers struggling to meet their monthly bills.
“We understand and appreciate the efforts expressed by our legislators to address the high bill concerns from customers,” stated Eversource spokesperson Tricia Modifica in an email response to a query. “PURA has to review and approve any and all rate changes or adjustments.”
With the Millstone surcharge in place, the new FMCC delivery charge on customer bills nearly doubled to more than 3 cents a kilowatt hour, which for the average household consuming 500 kilowatt hours of electricity in the spring or fall amounts to about $15 a month.
But tack on the demands of air conditioners and basement dehumidifiers, and some households could absorb an FMCC charge in excess of $35, while paying more for power generation and transmission based on their increased kilowatt hours of consumption.
Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman