Column | ‘Re-Energizing Affordability for CT Residents’ (February 2023)

February 7, 2023

Column as published by the CT Examiner:

 

Connecticut continues to face an energy cost crisis. It is now only Hawaii that has higher electricity rates than we do. Electricity, home heating oil and natural gas rates are at historic highs. Politicians have been full of excuses and working hard to escape responsibility. The truth is that this situation was avoidable. I could write a book about the many decisions made in Hartford that put us where we are today. However, the only thing that matters now is: How can we fix it?

 

First, please know that I have NEVER voted for any bill that would raise your utility rates or taxes since I have been in office. There are few of us, but you do have some strong voices working for you at the Capitol attempting to prevent the policies that have led to our current problems—and not just electric rates.

 

Our rates are high for numerous reasons. Number one is the inability to get enough natural gas into Connecticut to supply the power plants that make electricity. The Democrats’ national and state agenda is very much in opposition to any fossil fuel sources, so they have slowly but surely committed our state to a renewable energy portfolio that is unachievable based on current technology and is overly expensive. President Biden is on-record, on more than one instance, for his goal to cease production of oil and natural gas altogether. Because this shortage is a global problem, other countries are willing to pay more for our natural gas to be shipped as liquid natural gas (LNG) than sell it to our state to make electricity. This vulnerability is exacerbated by countless bad policies:

 

  • eliminating legislative oversight of rate increases
  • pushing people to natural gas for heating, instead of fuel oil and exacerbating the supply problem
  • restructuring the main watchdog agency to protect consumers so that it is not a watchdog anymore
  • regulations that prevent nuclear and hydro expansion

 

These actions are a recipe for ridiculous rates. The majority Democrats continue to pass policies that drive up rates to satisfy those pushing a radical climate change agenda. They then separate themselves from the accountability when the prices go up by shifting accountability to an unelected bureaucracy called the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA).

 

I have offered many bills in recent years to reverse these problems, and I am very pleased that this year my Republican colleagues have joined me to create a Better Way to Energy Affordability in Connecticut. Our plan will create more affordable and reliable energy in the state, while creating more transparency and oversight of the regulators that should be making decisions with you, the customer, in mind. The plan includes measures to address:

 

Affordability: right now, you are paying for much more than electricity when you pay your electric bill. Included are numerous state programs, hidden fees, and taxes. Public policy decisions should be funded by the state budget, not passed along surreptitiously via your utility bill. Our plan removes these fees from electric bills and requires that they be reviewed like other budget items. It is estimated this will create a $362 million annual savings- approximately $210 per year per ratepayer.

 

The state’s limited green energy portfolio also leads to higher costs. Currently, solutions like nuclear and hydro-electric are omitted. These sources must be included for Connecticut to realize its green energy goals while improving the reliability of clean energy and driving down costs.

 

Transparency: utility regulators should make their decisions for the benefit of the consumers. Unfortunately, the current system doesn’t work that way.  PURA currently oversees electric utility providers but operates under direction of the state’s Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP). Because PURA’s budget and personnel is controlled by CT DEEP, this creates a massive conflict.

 

These entities have two very different roles. PURA should be independent and focused on protecting ratepayers, ensuring a reliable grid, and holding utilities accountable.

 

Putting aside blame for mistakes of the past, we are calling upon the Governor and the majority Democrats to join us in passing the much-needed remedy. Hopefully, we can earn support and momentum from the public to push them into adopting our ideas.

 

I have worked diligently since I was first elected in 2010 to be the voice of reason on how we improve our energy portfolio without bankrupting residents and businesses. Sadly, I have also served in a substantial minority all that time. Each session, I submit numerous proposals to address all aspects of the problem – the way we purchase electricity, oversight of our suppliers and distribution network, and reversing many of the costs associated with government giveaways and add-ons to our electric bills. In addition to the Senate Republicans proposal, I filed many of these same bills again this session.

 

I encourage you to follow your elected officials closely so you can be informed where they stand both when you agree and when you disagree. The main failure leading to the problems facing us as individual citizens when it comes to utility rates, rising crime, inflation, etc. is the lack of public involvement in our legislative process. So very few people are engaged and watching what is going on and bad ideas are becoming law. Worse, the few people that attend the meetings and press for change are often a very vocal minority pushing us farther towards progressive socialism.

 

While this might be our current track, it is not too late to change the course of our state. That course correction begins with you as engaged and vocal citizens. A state that is affordable and safe is achievable and is made possible when the silent majority holds its elected representatives accountable.