House and Senate Republicans called Tuesday for state government to pick up the tab for more than a dozen energy charges and fees normally paid by ratepayers as part of a package of proposals aimed at reducing the cost of electricity in Connecticut.
During an afternoon press conference, lawmakers from both Republican caucuses unveiled the most recent legislative responses to the Jan. 1 supply rate increases affecting customers of both Eversource and United Illuminating.
An element of their plan involved sparing ratepayers an estimated $362 million per year by shifting cost of expenses like supply and delivery fees onto the state budget. Based on 2020 energy costs, the change would save the average Connecticut household around $210 per year, they said.
“The reality is that government is deeply entrenched in energy and is a partner in energy,” House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said. “There are many costs embedded into our bills that are policies that lawmakers have passed. Some of them are laudable but they are all paid for by the ratepayers.”
The charges and fees often fund maintenance and upgrades to utility systems as well as programs like financial assistance and energy efficiency initiatives. Sen. Ryan Fazio, R-Greenwich, said he expected many of the programs would continue to be funded by the state.
“They are social programs, in effect,” Fazio said. “The cost and benefit needs to be examined and the funding shouldn’t be embedded in the bills out of plain sight when they are, in fact a discretionary policy decision and we would expect that if you migrate a lot of these policies to the budget they will be continued as is.”
Managing energy costs and improving reliability has been a leading priority among state policymakers since the new term began earlier this month. Last week, Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration and the Democratic chairs of the Energy and Technology Committee outlined their own energy policy ideas, which included shifting away from natural gas generation in favor of other energy sources like nuclear, wind and hydropower energy.
On Tuesday, Republicans also advocated for bringing more energy sources like nuclear and hydropower into the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard program. Other proposals included reexamining the standard service process by which utilities purchase the energy they sell to their ratepayers.
Rep. Bill Buckbee, R-New Milford, said it was important for Connecticut to diversify the sources of its energy generation.
“Energy is, as we know, a commodity like any other,” Buckbee said. “That’s always going to flux and change and I think the more we have opportunities in different areas, be it hydro and wind and hydrogen as that comes available as we get there, that’s one piece of it.”
Another proposal would remove the state’s energy regulatory body, the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, where it is currently located.
Fazio said the separation of the two entities would allow PURA more autonomy to oversee the utilities and protect consumers.
Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly said energy affordability would be a top priority for lawmakers this year as it remains a pressing concern for residents feeling the burden of rising rates.
“I don’t care if you’re in a boardroom or a barber shop, this is the conversation,” Kelly said. “People know their energy is too expensive and they’re asking us to do our job and find a better way.”