Eversource Responds To Escalating Bills As Complaints Crackle
Local social network posts in Newtown — and across Connecticut’s Eversource electrical service sectors — are crackling with complaints as consumers have been opening their latest bills to see their payments increasing. Even Newtown State Rep Mitch Bolinsky (R-106) said he is being inundated with constituent concerns.
But while many, including nearly 75,000 who have signed a change.org petition, are calling for state lawmakers to specifically investigate delivery charges, a utility spokesperson told The Newtown Bee July 27 that legislation passed in 2017 and increased usage by ratepayers themselves are the reasons behind escalating electric bills.
“There are two significant factors driving the recent increase in electric rates,” explained Tricia Taskey Modifica, Eversource media relations manager. “The first is a state energy policy passed by the legislature in 2017 that requires Connecticut utilities to purchase power from the Millstone Power Plant at higher costs for the next ten years to keep Millstone running.”
Modifica says the July 1 bill includes about $124 million in costs directly tied to this agreement.
“To try and protect customers from these additional charges, Eversource worked along with AARP to challenge this policy change,” she added, “but were not successful.”
The second reason bills may be higher for some customers is that average customer use increased by more than one-third (36%) from May to June of this year.
“This jump reflects the reality of more customers working from home and running air conditioners, pool filters, dehumidifiers, and other appliances to help them stay cool,” Modifica said. “ In addition to these two cost drivers, there was also an increase in transmission costs from lower-than-expected loads over the New England transmission system compared to last year. The lower loads were primarily due to milder weather.”
Hearing the call from ratepayers, Connecticut Democratic House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D-30), Majority Leader Matt Ritter (D-1), and House Energy & Technology Committee Chair David Arconti (D-109), said in a joint statement that state residents, already pushed to financial limits because of the pandemic, now are seeing large increases to their electric bills.
“We want to know why,” the lawmakers stated. “The Energy & Technology Committee should schedule an informational hearing in the near future to hear from ratepayers, utilities, and state regulators.”
A spokesperson for House Democrats has since clarified that any such hearings would be to gather more information before anyone could begin identifying specific causes for the increases.
The state senate Republican leader also called for immediate answers from Eversource, “not more rate increases and excuses,” said Sen Len Fasano (R-34). “Lawmakers should hold a hearing to get answers from Eversource on why customers are seeing rates go up yet again. We need to hold Eversource accountable and have them answer our questions without dodging or placing the blame elsewhere.” Rep Bolinsky agrees a public hearing is in order so Eversource to answer questions about the recent spike in monthly utility bills and why costs have been rigged to go up regardless of weather conditions or other factors.
“Electric consumption is up but, who expects a 50 percent increase when they open their Eversource bill? At a time when so many Connecticut residents are also facing the financial pressures and uncertainties of reduced or no regular income, this outrageous rate increase and the lack of proper advance notice is unacceptable,” the Newtown lawmaker said in a release. “That said, the important thing at this moment is mitigating this shocking increase in delivery charges but, until we do, I call for a pause in the Eversource increase immediately, until the entire legislature can agree on the best course of action to address this problem.” What is curious, however, is that consumers have not generated any unusual spike in complaints on Eversource electricity rates.
As of Monday, PURA listed 81 complaints about Eversource electricity billing, just under half of the 208 tallied in all of 2019.
“We continue to support our customers during this unprecedented time with a variety of programs that can help them manage their energy bills and reduce energy consumption,” Modifica at Eversource stated. “We offer special, flexible payment plans for past-due bills and encourage any customer who needs assistance with their bill to contact us at 800-286-2000.”
Incentives Under Fire
Another multiplier on electric bills is the transmission charge, which a consortium of officials is blaming on federal regulators.
The first week in July, state Attorney General William Tong led a coalition of attorneys general, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Office of Consumer Counsel, and the Maine Ratepayer Advocate urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reject unnecessary and unjust incentive payments to transmission developers.
FERC issued a draft rule-making in March proposing a series of generous new transmission incentives, including extra payments for basic measures that transmission developers are already doing, such as joining mandatory regional transmission organizations. And the coalition argues that any new incentives must be targeted to encourage the development of modern, zero-carbon renewable resources.
In New England, transmission costs account for almost 20 percent of ratepayer bills. Approximately $1.3 billion in transmission upgrades are planned for New England over the next several years.
The base rate of return on equity for transmission developers on those projects is currently over ten percent — a lucrative business hardly in need of additional incentives, state officials concurred.
“The last thing we need is to send more ratepayer dollars to transmission developers for lucrative work they were already planning to do,” said Attorney General Tong.
“Under FERC’s proposed rule-making, Connecticut ratepayer dollars would be given away to transmission developers with no customer benefit in return,” said Acting Consumer Counsel Richard E. Sobolewski.
“The Department strongly urges the Commission not to provide unjust and unnecessary incentives to transmission companies for projects they would build anyway,” DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes said.
As reported recently in The Newtown Bee, Eversource is also increasing incentives for energy efficiency projects with a range of offerings for residential, small business, municipal, commercial and industrial customers. These incentives lower, and in many cases completely cover, the upfront costs of energy efficiency improvements that can help customers save now and in the future.
Residential customers, for example, may qualify for incentives of up to 100 percent of the cost of insulation; however, these increased incentives are for a limited time, with many expiring at the end of August.
Customers interested in an energy assessment or other energy efficiency services and rebates should visit the Save Money & Energy section of eversource.com for more information.