Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Connecticut Natural Gas and Southern CT Natural Gas Rate Hikes

Share

Call to Action

By Barbara Heimlich, Editor

Sources: Julie Martin Banks, CT News Junkie; Norah Duncan, AARP Connecticut; Samantha Dynowski, State Director, Sierra Club Connecticut; Duste Dunn, Connecticut Citizen Action Group

Editor’s Note:  On Friday, February 16th, Eversource announced that it submitted a plan to Connecticut regulators that included increased rates.  The plan could raise electric bills by nearly $40 a month.  The new rates would go into effect on May 1, 2024.  Eversource said a high number of unpaid balances dating back to the COVID-19 pandemic drove up costs, which has been causing paying customers to foot the bill.  The energy company also submitted a plan to increase rates over time to minimize the impact.

We are urging readers to contact Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) to reject the CNG and SCG proposed rate increases. Each utility proposes to increase their residential heating monthly fixed customer charges.

Residents can submit a written public comment to PURA by writing to PURA at 10 Franklin Square, New Britain, CT 06051 or sending an email to [email protected].

CNG proposes an increase from $18.00 to $21.25 per month; SCG from $15.64 to $21.25 per month. This means that ratepayers will see an increase in their bills before they even adjust their thermostats.

Under the proposed rate application, CNG proposes a revenue increase of $19.8 million, or approximately 4.3% of total revenues. SCG proposes a revenue increase of $40.6 million, or approximately 9.0% of total revenues. Depending upon where a customer is located, the proposed increase would add between $20.08 and $40.15 on a quarterly basis to the typical residential gas bill.

Utility rates are an essential pocketbook issue for Connecticut residents, many of whom struggle to pay their utility bills and other household expenses like food and medicine. The economic effects of inflation and other pressures continue to impact Connecticut residents’ finances, and more must be done to help families access the water they need.

Right now, PURA is seeking public comments this is the wrong direction for Connecticut’s ratepayers and our climate. 

PURA encourages ratepayers and other stakeholders to participate by:

  • Submitting comments to the Commissioners and into the public record at:

PURA
10 Franklin Square
New Britain, CT 06051

or sending an email to [email protected]

When contacting include the Docket Number:  (Docket No. 23-11-02)

While both PURA and its Office of Education Outreach and Enforcement (EOE) both have a significant impact on every resident who is an electric, gas and/or water customer in Connecticut, only the EOE office can work with customers on any issues or questions that may come up with their service.

PURA – due to its quasi-judicial structure – is limited as far as its interaction with the public, so the EOE office was created in 2020 as a way for more people to get their concerns addressed. The staff at EOE can’t speak on behalf of PURA, nor do they discuss any matters with its staff during active proceedings.

Aside from handling 16,000 complaints and inquiries in 2023 with only about 20 staff members, the EOE also returned $160,000 to customers. 

Complaints arrive in a variety of ways, including emails, web intake forms, or referrals.

The EOE office handles many individual inquiries and complaints from customers of Connecticut’s utilities – water, gas, electric and telecommunications companies. Sometimes calls are policy-related while others are general industry questions, according to Nicole Grant, the EOE office’s Deputy Director.

“Sometimes we have to look a little deeper to figure it out,” Grant said during a recent interview. She added that for an issue to be considered a complaint, the customer has to have tried to resolve the matter with the utility or service provider in question.

Investigating any given complaint can mean follow up with several entities – including the customer, the utility, or PURA.

“Oftentimes it’s not always entirely clear what the complaint or the matter at hand is,” Grant said.

Grant said there are many complaints about high bills, questions about how people can enroll in certain programs, and inquiries about third-party electric suppliers. Customers can shop for electricity from third-party retailers when standard rates from Eversouce or United Illuminating are too high.

“This isn’t just information we manage as a one-off,” Grant said. “We take this information, and it often informs us about how we participate in various dockets such as energy affordability or supplier actions.”

Grant points to United Illuminating, which this month redesigned the bills it sends to residential electricity customers. “This is a huge leap forward in transparency and education for folks trying to read their electric bill,” Grant said.

As part of its function, the EOE office also has a mediation and enforcement arm that in 2022 focused on issues facing vulnerable and low-income residents, and in particular, looked into electric suppliers.

The EOE office settled 12 supplier enforcement actions, resulting in more than $9 million in settlements and customer restitution. Of that, $500,000 went to customer refunds and $8.5 million went to Operation Fuel – an emergency assistance program for residents struggling to pay bills – or to hardship arrearage for the state’s financially vulnerable customers, according to PURA’s 2022 annual report.

Grant said a big change this year is that customers considered “hardship” are now allowed to switch to a third-party supplier.

“This is huge,” Grant said. “It’s a game changer for them.”

The EOE office oversees the state’s Energize CT Rate Board, where customers can shop for third-party suppliers.

The state’s Office of Consumer Counsel, which interacts with PURA as a party to many of its dockets, said the EOE office is a good resource for the public when it comes to public utility services and handling individual complaints.

While the EOE office has limited jurisdiction over telecommunications, internet, and broadband services, it can help elderly consumers, for example, get answers about technology that they may have trouble understanding how to use.

“As many of these non-regulated companies or partially regulated companies adopt more technology, self-service technology, there are individuals that are sort of left out of the process,” Grant said.

The EOE office also has a Licensing and Certification Unit. In 2022, that unit reviewed 7,750 licenses, certifications, electric supplier applications, and natural gas seller registrations. In 2023, that office reviewed 17,000 applications and licenses.

 “We do not speak on behalf of PURA. We interpret, we mediate, we educate,” Grant said.

3 COMMENTS

  1. News organizations issuing calls to action is an honored tradition and often welcomed by a community. Calls to Action are editorials; they are not news stories. Best advice: run the news in the news section and run the call to action separately in the Editorial section. Otherwise, run the entire call to action piece, which has the supporting news information with it, in the Editorial section.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Read more

Local News