Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie
Branford Fire House hearing on Eversource rate request (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie)

BRANFORD, CT — A month after the average Eversource customer saw their monthly bill increase $7, the utility is looking for another rate increase that would start this May.

The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) is holding a series of four public hearings on the latest rate request across the state.

On Wednesday about 50 New Haven area residents came to the Branford fire station to mostly pan the proposal in front of PURA representatives.

One of the most vehement in his objection to the rate increase was Ben Martin, of Wallingford, who said he was a member of 350CT.org, a group he said that is committed to creating a clean renewable energy system.

“The people who put in this application for a rate increase cannot be trusted,” Martin, who was carrying a large anti-Eversource poster, said as he waited his turn to speak.

“Every request they come in with is in the interest of the company’s greed,” Martin continued. “They should be cutting their rates.”

Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie
Ben Martin of Wallingford (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie)

At the beginning of the year, Eversource customers were paying $0.09 per kilowatt hour, up from the $0.08 they were paying in 2017.

The higher bills were caused by an increase in the “generation service charge,” the amount electric generating companies charge Eversource for power, said company spokesman Mitch Gross, who was in the audience listening Wednesday.

The charge is adjusted every January and July based on how much it costs suppliers to produce electricity. Traditionally, costs go up in January and down in July, Gross said, primarily because of fluctuations in the cost of natural gas.

On the heels of that is this latest proposal for yet another increase. This one would span three years, and start on May 1 of this year.

If passed this year, bills would increase by 2.47 percent. In 2019, they would go up another 0.81 percent and in 2020, another 0.61 percent.

Earlier this year, Eversource agreed to significantly reduce its proposed three-year rate hike from $337 million to $154 million. Eversource officials said the reduction reflects changes to the federal tax law recently adopted by the House and Senate and signed by President Donald Trump.

The tax law reduced the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

Gross said that Eversource has applied to PURA to reduce the customer service charge for each bill, which is currently a flat fee of $19.25. Eversource is asking PURA for permission to reduce the fee to $11.88.

Eversource delivers electricity to 1.2 million customers in 149 Connecticut cities and towns.

Also speaking at Wednesday’s hearing was Branford First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove.

“Of course I’m opposed to a rate increase,” Cosgrove said. “Many people are living on fixed incomes.”

Cosgrove said his concern wasn’t limited to Eversource, stating that he wonders whether all of Connecticut’s utilities “are delivering services in the most efficient manner.”

Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, who is co-chair of the Energy and Technology Committee, was also in attendance Wednesday.

“We really need to find savings for ratepayers,” Reed said. “The ranks of people on payment plans is exploding.”

Also speaking against the rate hike proposal Wednesday night was Essex businessman Lon Seidman.

Seidman presented PURA representatives with 4,100 signatures he collected in opposition to the rate hike.

Seidman, a longtime critic of Eversource, said that in recent years, “All I’ve seen is the rate going up but service has not improved. It is time that they do better.”

Gross said that a large part of its rate request increase was to strengthen the power grid.

He described those improvements as “new technology, wires, polls, cyber security, tree trimming — everything we need to do to keep the system functioning at the highest level.”

There is still a lot of time to let Eversource and regulators know how you feel.

In addition to the public hearings across the state, PURA announced that public hearings in this matter will be held on the following dates at its offices, Ten Franklin Square, New Britain: today, Feb. 1, at 9:30 a.m.; Friday, Feb. 2, at 9:30 a.m.; Monday, Feb. 5, at 10:30 a.m.; Tuesday, Feb. 6, at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 7, 10:30 a.m.; Thursday, Feb. 8, at 9:30 a.m.; and Friday, Feb. 9, at 9:30 a.m.

PURA may continue the hearings on additional dates, as deemed necessary.

In addition, it said a public comment hearing on this matter will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 6, at 6 p.m., New London City Hall, Council Chambers, City of New London, 181 State St.

Consumers can also submit comments to PURA via email at PURA.ExecutiveSecretary@ct.gov. Comments should reference Docket Number 17-10-46.