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Hearing begins over Eversource rate hike

The state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) held an online hearing about power company Eversource’s proposed rate hike on Monday, Aug. 24. 

The hearing began at 10 a.m., with PURA Chair Melissa Gillett attempting to connect with Gov. Ned Lamont (D). Lamont and Attorney General William Tong have said the electric company should not be allowed to increase prices. Eversource provides electricity to 149 of the state’s 169 municipalities.

When the connection couldn’t be made with Lamont, the online audience of 400-plus people heard from U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

Blumenthal said “the time for tinkering is over.

“We need to think big about being smaller and more responsive.”

He advocated immediate measures: freezing rates at pre-July levels, and offering refunds and reimbursement to those who were affected by Tropical Storm Isaias earlier this month.

He also floated the idea of breaking up Eversource and creating instead a publicly owned, Connecticut-based electric utility, similar to municipal utilities.

And he urged regulators to link profits and rates to performance.

“The system is an abject failure,” he said. “This could be an inflection point.”

Connecticut electric rates are among the highest in the nation, second only to Hawaii, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Lamont was next, having solved the technical difficulties. 

He said the combination of outrage over the steep increases Eversource customers saw in their July bills and the poor performance of the company in restoring power after the tropical storm adds up to an opportunity to make fundamental changes in how electricity is delivered to Connecticut customers.

Lamont was critical of Eversource management. “The disconnect between [executive] pay and performance is shocking to me. The days of getting a 9.5% return for just showing up are over.”

He said Eversource should face penalties for poor performance, and future regulation should be based on performance.

During the remarks from Blumenthal, Lamont and several state legislators (and one first selectman), the Zoom chat function was active. Here are some samples:

“Fire PURA and start over.”

“PURA approved the rate hike.”

“I’m surmising that nobody speaking lost power for seven days.”

“Everyone please prepare for the two storms on the way!”

“Let the unholy alliance between PURA and Eversource see the light of day. Then maybe we can get somewhere.”

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