With Connecticut households bracing for steep electricity rate hikes, Gov. Ned Lamont announced a plan Monday to offset Eversource bills by $10 and supplement an energy assistance program by a total of $13 million in utility company shareholder profits.
Lamont announced the temporary relief plan during a morning press conference in the state Capitol building, more than a week after both Eversource and United Illuminating informed regulators that the supply portion of consumers’ bills would increase by nearly 100%, and as a result, customers’ bills will increase by about 50% beginning in January.
The governor said members of his administration and the state consumer counsel worked with utility providers over the holiday weekend to negotiate a plan to offset the additional costs.
“I think it’s really important you step up as a good faith effort for the ratepayers as well,” Lamont said he told utility executives. “Don’t roll that into the rate base we pay later but do that out of the shareholders and provide that little extra support for the folks here in Connecticut. We’re partners in this.”
Steve Sullivan, president of Eversource Connecticut, and Frank Reynolds, president and CEO of United Illuminating, both provided quotes for a subsequent press release but did not speak at Monday’s news conference.
The plan includes an agreement by Eversource and UI to seek regulatory approval to expedite credits that will amount to a bill reduction of around $10 per month for Eversource customers. United Illuminating customers will receive a similar credit for a yet-to-be-determined amount. The credits will be available from January through April.
Ratepayers are expected to see their bills increase by an average of more than $80 per month beginning in January.
Meanwhile, shareholders of both companies will provide additional funding for Operation Fuel, an energy assistance program aimed at helping lower-income utility customers pay their bills. Eversource will pay $10 million into the program while UI will pay $3 million.
Attorney General William Tong, a Democrat, said he had asked Eversource to contribute $40 million and UI to contribute $8 million to Operation Fuel.
Absent a significant commitment from the two utilities, the Office of the Attorney General has not joined today’s filing with the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority and will continue to press for more meaningful aid.
“Taxpayers and ratepayers are contributing to these solutions, and so too should the shareholders and executives who have done so well over the past several years. We pay far too much for our energy in Connecticut and this problem is not going away. We need to take a hard look at who is profiting and who is harmed as we search for long term reform,” Tong said.
During the press conference, Lamont and others stressed that the rate hikes stem from increases in the supply portion of customers’ bills. Those increases are largely driven by global events.
“Energy is a little more complicated. We don’t have total control of our destiny but we do what we can to make life a little easier for folks,” Lamont said.
Monday’s news conference took place as state lawmakers prepared to convene for a special legislative session to pass a bill that, among other things, dedicates an additional $30 million to Connecticut’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, funding the utility assistance benefits at around $135 million, roughly where it was funded last year.
During a press conference later in the day, Republican legislative leaders, who called earlier this year for more substantial increases to LIHEAP funding, said the efforts to boost support for Operation Fuel would not be enough to address a swell of need driven by rising energy bills and other costs related to inflation.
House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said the supplemental funding would leave Connecticut ratepayers fighting over “crumbs.”
“It’s going to be like throwing bread into a duck pond, the way they’ve set this up,” Candelora said.
Last week, Democratic leaders in the state Senate called for energy regulators in Connecticut to work with their counterparts in nearby states to hold regional hearings aimed at stemming energy rate hikes.
In their letter to the head of the Public Utility Regulatory Authority, Senate President Martin Looney and Majority Leader Bob Duff blamed corporate greed for the high price of energy.
“How is Eversource, with large economies of scale available to it, unable to compete with small municipal electric suppliers? The obvious answer to this question is simple: greed,” Looney and Duff wrote.
On Monday, state Consumer Counsel Claire Coleman said regional hearings could help give policymakers a chance to weigh the pros and cons of energy policies in neighboring states.
“Evaluating what’s happening across the region and what can be best practices is always helpful,” Coleman said.
The bill also extends a suspension of the state’s 25-cent gas tax. The tax holiday had been scheduled to expire on Dec. 1. Lamont and legislative leaders have agreed to phase the tax back in slowly by restoring 5 cents every month between January and May.