Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes. Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

With Connecticut energy consumers preparing for the impact of steep hikes in their electricity rates that went into effect this month, state officials outlined Wednesday some long-term strategies for reducing the cost of energy and improving its reliability. 

During a press conference at the state Capitol prompted by sharp Jan. 1 supply rate increases at both Eversource and United Illuminating, Gov. Ned Lamont and members of his administration said their long-term energy goals included leveraging federal funds to shift away from the region’s reliance on natural gas in favor of cleaner and more reliable energy supply through sources like wind, nuclear, and hydropower energy.

“The state and the country [are] going through a transition when it comes to energy and our focus here is on reliability, affordability, and a carbon-free future,” Lamont said. 

Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes said Connecticut would continue to be subject to price swings in the energy market until it diversifies the sources that generate its energy. 

“This strategy will better insulate residents from price volatility, increase reliability, and help us meet our greenhouse gas emissions goals,” Dykes said in a press release.

The rate hikes, which for some consumers will result in a 50% increase in their bills, came as a result of energy market conditions involving New England’s reliance on a limited supply of natural gas to generate electricity. Those conditions were exacerbated by Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. 

Energy and Technology Committee chairs Sen. Norm Needleman and Rep. Jonathan Steinberg. Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

During an organizational meeting of the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee this week, the panel’s leadership said they expected members of the public to have questions about why the complicated energy-purchasing system had resulted in such high prices for the current period. The committee plans to hold a series of informational hearings this month on energy affordability and reliability. 

“Stay focused on the people that this is impacting in the most negative way because it’s a really, really serious problem and the public is screaming about it for good reason,” Sen. Norm Needleman, an Essex Democrat who co-chairs the panel, said Tuesday.

Needleman and his co-chairman, Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, joined members of the administration and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal for Wednesday’s press conference. Steinberg said the panel would be open to suggestions for improving Connecticut’s energy situation.

“We in the E&T committee are going to entertain any good idea this session,” Steinberg said. “We want to put everything on the table because we recognize that whatever path we choose in conjunction with the administration will take a lot of effort and a lot of money. Thankfully, we have some federal funds to apply to that.”

In a Wednesday press release, Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly said that Connecticut should do more to offer relief to ratepayers. He said Senate Republicans would be proposing ideas for more affordable energy in the coming days. 

“Good ideas find friends, and we hope that our ideas will be welcomed by our colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” Kelly said. 

In the meantime, applications are on the rise for the state’s energy assistance program funded by the federal Low-Income Household Energy Assistance initiative. The program offers up to $2,320 in benefits per eligible household to help pay for heating. 

Incoming Social Services Commissioner Andrea Barton Reeves told reporters that the number of applications for assistance had already risen 27% over last year. State officials expect participation in the program to grow to over 100,000 households as winter temperatures drop. 

While spending legislation passed by Congress last year supplemented the program with additional funding, Blumenthal said he expected his colleagues in Washington would work together to provide more support if it proved necessary. 

“It’s not just a red state or blue state issue,” Blumenthal said. “There’s nothing partisan about people who are frozen in their homes.”