By Steve Barlow, Republican-American
BERLIN — The reason Courtney Toran showed up Friday to a protest at Eversource’s state headquarters arrived in the mail earlier last week. Her latest monthly bill for electricity was $617, about $200 more than usual.
“It’s unaffordable,” said the 36-year-old Naugatuck resident.
Toran held a sign decrying a recent Eversource rate increase next to her two sons, Damion Jr., 7, and Liam, 5, who were also waving placards at the rally attended by about 50 people.
Toran said she and her husband, Damion Sr., have kept their thermostat at 73 degrees during a long, hot summer. They have energy-efficient appliances in their 13-year-old, 3,000-square-foot home. What more could they do to keep costs down?
“I called (Eversource),” she said. “They told me to start unplugging appliances.”
Toran and other customers will get some temporary relief after the state Public Utility Regulatory Authority on Friday told Eversource to restore the rates in effect before July 1 while state regulators reconsider the increase they had earlier approved.
Friday’s decision came at the urging of state legislators of both parties as well as Gov. Ned Lamont, Attorney General William Tong and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who attended Friday’s protest. They were heeding complaints from constituents angry over skyrocketing electricity bills.
PURA directed Eversource to restore the prior rates no later than Aug. 7. It has also sent a list of questions for the utility to answer ahead of a public hearing sometime in August. The agency is also accepting public comments.
“PURA’s pause today on delivery rate hikes reassures our residents that the reconsideration of requests by utilities can happen and, most importantly of all, that customers won’t be overpaying in the meantime,” said Lamont in a statement. “At the same time, we have reinvigorated our pressure on the federal government to address long-standing frustrations with federally mandated delivery charges.”
Eversource has blamed people’s higher-than-normal bills on increased usage brought on by the summer heat; average use in June jumped by 26% from the previous year. Also, more people are working from home during the pandemic.
The utility also pointed to a state-mandated deal with the Millstone nuclear plant for cleaner energy that it claimed has produced extra costs being passed along to consumers. And a federally imposed Transmission Access Charge, which pays for servicing the national electric grid, rose 45%.
“We understand and share concerns that customers are expressing regarding recent higher-than-normal bills. We will work quickly to enact PURA’s temporary suspension of the rate adjustment and look forward to participating in the process to ensure transparency for customers and policy makers,” Eversource spokeswoman Tricia Modifica said.
“We also continue to work with customers one-on-one through our payment assistance and energy efficiency programs to help them lower their energy use and reduce their bills, recognizing that the weather continues to be warmer than normal and people are still adjusting their lives around COVID.”
Eversource customers having trouble paying their bills can call 800-286-2000 for assistance.
To leave a comment on the rate hike with PURA, consumers can call 800-372-4586 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Earlier Friday, the Hartford Business Journal reported Eversource’s profits for the second quarter ending June 30 totaled $252 million. That was before the now suspended rate increase had taken effect.