Connecticut’s Electric Utilities Aren’t Plugged In

May 27, 2015

Get this: we pay the highest electric rates in the northeast and our state’s largest electric provider was just ranked dead last for customer satisfaction.

Of course, this probably comes as no surprise to you. The week-long power outages we endured following Super Storm Sandy and Hurricane Irene are not easily forgotten, nor are the monthly reminders when our electric bills arrive or the utilities’ seemingly constant attempts to increase rates. And increase they have.

According to the CT Roundtable on Climate and Jobs, a grassroots collaboration of environmental, business and labor advocacy groups, residential customers’ fixed charges have more than doubled since 2004 and they are increasing four times the rate of inflation. The fixed charge is a fee that all utility customers pay for access to service irrespective of how much energy they use.


Today, Eversource (formerly CL&P) has the highest fixed charge among major utility companies in New England ($19.25/month), and United Illuminating has the second highest ($17.25/month). By comparison, Eversource residential customers of NSTAR in neighboring Massachusetts pay monthly fixed charges ranging from $3.73 to $6.87.

How on earth, you may be wondering, are the utilities getting away with this in Connecticut? That’s a totally fair question, for sure, but the more pressing one is what are we doing about it?

Senate Bill 570 is an excellent and important start. The bill would cap the monthly fixed charge on Eversource and United Illuminating Company (UI) customers’ bills at $10.

The positive effect of this change would be two-fold. The cap will help drive down the cost of electric bills, especially for low-income households – and that’s critically important because, according to Operation Fuel, nearly 300,000 households in our state cannot afford their utility bills each month. Secondly, the cap will create an even greater incentive for energy conservation and efficiency, as people seek to exert more control over the charges they can – the ones directly tied to their actual energy usage.

While the general public may not be privy to the industry’s complicated regulatory structure here in Connecticut, policy experts at the Roundtable explain that capping the monthly residential fixed charge at $10 will have no impact on the amount of revenue received by the utility. Our state’s Public Utility Regulatory Agency (PURA), a quasi-public entity responsible for regulatory oversight of the industry, is charged with determining how much total revenue the utilities need to serve the public interest. Capping the fixed charge just provides guidelines for how that revenue is recovered from customers – i.e. the mix of fixed charges vs. variable charges.

Voting in support of the cap is an important step we as a legislature can take for consumers, but it is only one of many we must move forward with to bring greater accountability, transparency and reliability to our beleaguered electric utilities.

We all undoubtedly have a personal story of how we have felt slighted by our electric provider, yet their arrogance has been on display in a most visible and troubling manner as UI seeks approval from the Connecticut Siting Council for upgrades to a substation in Fairfield. In a complete disregard for due process and the neighborhood surrounding the substation, UI did not properly notify all abutting property owners, as is statutorily required, and it did not in good faith engage the residents in an open and inclusive dialogue about its plans.

I fully understand and respect that our utility companies must make necessary upgrades to infrastructure to help meet the growing demand for electricity as our technologically-driven society becomes more and more dependent on high-energy consumption gadgets. I believe our residents understand this, too.

But we rightfully demand the respect and courtesy of being involved and meaningfully engaged in the process to ensure we are making these improvements in a way that ensures public safety, includes appropriate environmental safeguards, and incorporates public input.

To be shut out, as many Fairfield residents were, only intensifies the already huge divide between our utilities and the customers they serve. That’s not only bad for business; it’s simply not right.

State Senator Tony Hwang is in his 4th term in the Connecticut General Assembly and 1st term as State Senator of the 28th District, which encompasses Fairfield, Easton, Newtown and portions of Weston and Westport. Senator Hwang is the ranking leader in the Housing and Labor & Public Employees committees and a member of Commerce and Veterans Affairs committees during the 2015-16 legislative sessions. He is also a member of the CT Innovation Life Sciences Business/Government Group and co-chair of the bipartisan General Assembly Bioscience Caucus.