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State regulators tell Eversource to return back to lower rates immediately

The complaints have been mounting over the week and now the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority says it will investigate

BERLIN, Conn. — Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) announced Friday they are suspending approved rate increases for Eversource. Additionally, PURA said that Eversource must return back to their June rates, following the uproar of larger July energy bills.

PURA said the change must happen as soon as possible, but no later than August 7th.

Read the order below:

The fallout over sky-high electric bills, and the demand for an explanation, continues to grow louder.

A protest is planned for 2:30 p.m. Friday, July 30 at the Eversource building in Berlin. Senator Richard Blumenthal is expected to attend the rally. 

Sen. Blumenthal spoke to reporters following the decision by PURA saying in part:

I commend state regulators for acting so quickly. This suspension of an absolutely abhorrent and unacceptable rate increase is a very temporary fix. I'm going to be fighting for a more permanent solution from the federal agency which can cut the transmission charges. 

I believe that we need to look at the fundamental reasons why Eversource is asking for this absolutely unacceptable and gargantuan rate increase at a time when Connecticut consumers are struggling. We are going through the worse economic crisis since the Great Depression and this country wants to increase rates by this unacceptable, abhorrent amount. 

PURA provided a short term solution. it suspended the rate increase but what we need is a more fundamental solution. A short term fix is welcome and significant and PURA is to be commended. The state regulators have done their job. Now, the federal regulators have to do their job too.

I am going to continue fighting beginning with the letter I submitted along with Attorney General William Tong so that the transmission rates are cut while consumers are going through unprecedented hardship and heartbreak. This kind of rate increase is absolutely damaging--deeply damaging--to our whole economy. It will create obstacles to our recovery, not promote it, which is why I'm happy we can take this positive first step and move forward to a more permanent and far-reaching solution.

Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano (R-North Haven) and Senator Paul Formica (R-East Lyme), ranking member of the Energy & Technology Committee, also released the following statement regarding PURA's announcement:

We want to thank the state regulators at PURA for their careful consideration of our request to suspend Eversource's rate increases. PURA made the right call in suspending these increases and providing relief to customers. 

A full investigation must take place and we are encouraged to see that public comment is now being accepted and welcomed in the process. Especially during these challenging times when many families are struggling financially, we need to make sure ratepayers are not being overcharged and have protections in place.

Eversource announced Friday morning that they will be extending financial assistance and working one-on-one with customers to try and manage and reduce their future bills in response to this week’s concerns.

“We share the concerns of our customers and know that this is an unexpected cause of distress during an already challenging time,” said Eversource Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer Penni Conner. “We’re committed to working one-on-one with customers to help reduce their energy bills and to provide flexible payment solutions. Our customer care number is 800-286-2000, and we’re here to help any customer who calls.”

Eversource said that in order to support customers facing financial hardship and other challenges due to COVID-19, they worked with Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) to create a COVID-19 Payment Program they say is available to all customers who need it. Additionally, Eversource is expanding eligibility for qualifying customers to the New Start program, which forgives overdue balances as customers make current payments to their bill.

An Eversource spokesperson had said Monday that the major increase on bills is largely a result of legislation, put into place last year, when electric providers were instructed to buy power from the Millstone power plant, at a higher rate, to help keep the plant running. They also point to a hot summer and COVID-19 related issues like people staying at home almost 24/7.

In March 2019, Dominion Energy and the state’s two major electric utility companies reached an agreement to keep the Millstone nuclear power plant complex open for the next decade.

Dominion, which owns the plant, had signaled that Millstone would close in 2023 if a long-term power contract with Eversource and United Illuminating wasn’t reached. The contract is for nine million megawatt-hours per year.

Governor Ned Lamont had said at the time the loss of Millstone “would have been catastrophic for our state and our region,” exposing New England to a nearly 25 percent increase in carbon emissions, increased risk of rolling blackouts and billions in power replacement costs.

He said more than 1,500 jobs were also at risk.

But people are still upset. 

State Republicans are calling for Eversource to explain the increases in depth to lawmakers.  

"They owe an explanation. Finger-pointing is not an explanation," said State Senator Len Fasano (R-34th Dist.). 

"To turn to the public and say we can spend as much as we want and do whatever we want and you have to pay the rates and if you’re nervous about, it sweat in your house. That’s not an answer," said Sen. Fasano. 

Republicans had asked for the Public Utility Regulation Authority (PURA)  to take a second look at the rate increases they approved for the month of July back on June 26th.  

PURA had responded to the letter Wednesday afternoon saying they will look into the matter of rate hikes after the response from Connecticut residents and other stakeholders.

Attorney General William Tong is also demanding answers to the rate increase. 

“We’ve received complaints from well over 100 consumers regarding unaffordable increases in their energy bills. Consumers have a right to be angry. We pay far too much for our energy as it is here in Connecticut. I thank PURA for reconsidering and scrutinizing these increases, and for considering all possible avenues to assist consumers. This office has intervened on behalf of consumers at each and every rate case before PURA and FERC because we know how much the cost of energy impacts family budgets,” said Attorney General Tong.

On Thursday, Attorney General Tong joined U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal in urging FERC to rescind the transmission charge increase and rebate consumers for what has already been paid for this past year

Head here for a closer look and breakdown on your electric bill.