AARP commissioned a survey of 802 Connecticut residents over the age of 50 that found overwhelming support for lowering electricity rates in a state with the second highest electricity rates in the country.
The survey also found that 68 percent don’t believe their elected state officials are doing enough to lower the cost of their electric bills. Eighty-nine percent say they support legislation that requires the Department of Utility Control to take steps to reduce electricity rates by 15 percent over the next five years.
AARP’s Advocacy Director John Erlingheuser said the survey focused mainly on consumer protections in the electric market and consumer choice. Legislation passed more than four years ago allowed competitive suppliers to come into the market to offer consumers a choice of electric supplier. Previously people could only buy their electricity from the two big utility companies, Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating.
Erlingheuser said they selected these areas because AARP believes these are the two areas with the biggest problems in the market and “we also feel they’re the areas that cause the greatest confusion.”
David Thomas, AARP’s lead advocacy volunteer on the issue, said he’s heard from consumers who have chosen to go with a competitive supplier and a few months into the contract the price is higher than what it would have been if they stuck with the major utility company. He said the survey confirms antedoctal stories he’s heard from the population for months. He said consumers want to be able to cancel their contracts and don’t want to receive calls at all hours of the day and night.
“Choosing a competitive supplier is not the be all, end all for ratepayers,” Erlingheuser said. “If we don’t get at the market for standard offer, we’ll never lower everybody’s rates.”
Standard offer is jargon for receiving electricity from one of the big utilities.
Erlingheuser pointed out that 77 percent of those surveyed support legislation that would create a procurement manager to ensure that electricity is purchased for consumers of Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating at the lowest reasonable cost.
Chris Kallaher, senior director of government and regulatory affairs for Direct Energy Services, said it’s his understanding the procurement manager would reside in the merged Environmental and Energy Department and will look to lock ratepayers into long-term contracts.
“We see it as unnecessary and it could possibility have a negative impact on ratepayers,” Kallaher said.
He said these procurement contracts will require the state to lock in a price with these utilities, which could actually keep prices higher than they are at the moment if the person procuring the electricity makes a bad decision. He said he has no problem if utilities want to take this risk and back it up with commitments from their shareholders.
As far as the consumer protection provisions, such as identifying the terms of the contract and calling during business hours, that’s something the competitive supplier industry can agree to and in some instances already adheres to, Kallaher said. He said most of those provisions are just good business practices.
Rep. Vickie Nardello, D-Prospect, said she appreciated the survey from AARP because it helps inform her decisions as co-chairwoman of the Energy and Technology Committee.
Most of the provisions supported by AARP are included in SB 1, the omnibus energy bill which has already made it through two committees, but has a long way to go before winning the approval of the General Assembly.
Erlingheuser said his organization will drop its support of SB 1 if it doesn’t do what it promises to do in lowering electricity rates for consumers. He said senior citizens on fixed incomes are disproportionately impacted by increasing electricity costs.
The bill, which is still a work in progress by all accounts, changes the way the state purchases energy.
“I think the biggest thing is how we buy power,” Nardello said. “If we buy power differently we’ll be able to lower the cost of that power and that’s one of the major components of the bill.”
She said she’s looking to for a balanced bill, which “supports the development of renewables and energy efficiency in the state of Connecticut balanced with the ability to reduce the cost of electric power.”
“It’s a challenge, by the way, to do both of those things,” Nardello said.