Energy prices are rising in CT. But officials say not to worry.

Photo of Luther Turmelle
Utility workers from Eversource Energy work on a trench for a natural gas main.

Utility workers from Eversource Energy work on a trench for a natural gas main.

Contributed photo

Approximately one in three Connecticut households use natural gas for heating, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Another 16 percent of the state’s consumers heat their homes using electricity. That might explain why Gov. Ned Lamont used a full-court press on Friday in attempt to reassure Connecticut residents that a surge in energy prices, while painful to consumers, isn’t as bad here as it is elsewhere.

Lamont, several of his commissioners and Marissa Gillett, chairwoman of the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, each took turns explaining what is causing the price increase and what Connecticut is doing to mitigate those increases.

“We’re getting more energy independent,” the governor said. “But we don’t have as much control of our energy as we should. It’s a complicated mess.”

Before Lamont even approached the podium at the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection headquarters in Hartford, Eversource Energy had announced its residential natural gas customers will see a 14 percent or $30 increase in typical monthly bills compared to their average monthly winter heating outlays in 2020.

Officials at Southern Connecticut Gas and Connecticut Natural Gas declined to provide Hearst Connecticut Media with details on how much their customers’ fuel prices would be rising as a result of energy price surge.

“We are advising customers via bill messages, online, and via email that natural gas energy supply prices are expected to increase and that we are here to help them manage their use and costs,” said Susan Millerick, a spokesperson for the two utilities, which are owned by Orange-based Avangrid.

She said Avangrid’s gas companies do not set the commodity costs of natural gas. “While we do not control the price, we can help customers manage their overall cost by reducing waste and stabilizing bills.”

Rich Sobolewski, the state’s acting consumer counsel, said Connecticut residential electric customers pay lower generation service rates than their counterparts in New Hampshire and Massachusetts and about the same as households in Rhode Island.

A variety of factors is contributing to the surge in natural gas prices, according to Sobolewski.

“We’re coming out of period in the pandemic where we saw the lowest electric rates per kilowatt hour ... in about a decade,” he said. “All of a sudden, the economy is going again, but there is not a lot of energy production. And of the amount that is taking place in the United States, about 10 percent of natural gas that’s produced here is being shipped right out to other parts of the world.”

Only 16 percent of Connecticut residents use electricity to heat their homes, according to the Energy Information Administration. But those who do and have Eversource provide their electricity will see average standard offer service supply charges increase by $31 per month, or 21 percent, starting in January, according to Mitch Gross, an Eversource spokesperson.

Gross said the figure is based on a customer who uses 700 kilowatts per month.

Customers of UI who have homes heated by electricity and use 700 kilowatt hours per month will see their electric bills increase by $18.34 or 10.4 percent.

With energy prices rising, Chris Herb, president of the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association in Cromwell, lays the blame for surging natural gas and electricity prices at the feet of the natural gas industry. That’s hardly a surprise since CEMA represents the state independent home heating oil dealers.

“Obviously, the canary in the coal mine was natural gas,” Herb said. “Natural gas prices started to move really strong in the summer, then we started to see the liquid products come in from behind.”

DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes said Connecticut officials are doing everything they can to move the state away from using natural gas and toward renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.

Since 2012, the DEEP has procured 710 megawatts of generating capacity in grid-scale solar and 1,108 megawatts of offshore wind. The state agency has also invested in more than 445 megawatts of energy efficiency — clean energy supply alternatives that reduce fossil fuel dependence.

“Whether it’s our efforts at the regional grid level to reduce reliance on natural gas and diversify our generation mix, increased oversight over electricity supply procurement, access to energy efficiency programs and incentives, energy bill assistance, or access to COVID-19 funding for utility bill relief, the state has been looking out for residents,” Dykes said.

David Cohen, executive vice president of Standard Oil of Connecticut, said the state needs to be cautious about too much reliance on renewables.

“Europe is becoming very heavily dependent on wind,” Cohen said. “It wasn’t as windy, so they’ve had to switch over to natural gas and prices have spiked. The price of natural gas has really gone up significantly, more than doubled.”

luther.turmelle@hearstmediact.com