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Connecticut regulators temporarily suspend Eversource’s higher electricity rates amid protest at company’s headquarters

Brian Bonas, of Bristol, wears a sign as he and others gather outside of Eversource's 107 Selden St. location off of the Berlin Turnpike Friday, July 31, 2020, in Berlin. The group was gathered to protest the distribution rates of their recent bills, in which the bills were at least doubled compared to recent months.
Brian Bonas, of Bristol, wears a sign as he and others gather outside of Eversource's 107 Selden St. location off of the Berlin Turnpike Friday, July 31, 2020, in Berlin. The group was gathered to protest the distribution rates of their recent bills, in which the bills were at least doubled compared to recent months. (Kassi Jackson/Hartford Courant)

BERLIN — Connecticut regulators, facing a public uproar over higher electricity rates as consumers struggle with the coronavirus pandemic and a weak economy, announced Friday they are temporarily suspending higher electricity rates approved last month.

The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority ordered Eversource Energy to immediately restore rates to where they stood June 30.

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The increased rates took effect July 1 and include the purchase of power, required by state legislation, from the Millstone nuclear plant. As electric customers received their bills in July, a public revolt quickly formed.

“The intent of this re-examination is to ensure that Eversource is not over-collecting revenues in the short term at the expense of ratepayers during this period of financial hardship,” PURA said.

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Regulators will schedule a public hearing in August.

Eversource had said in its rate filing that customers who use a typical 700 kilowatt hours a month would pay 3.5% more, or $5.58 per month. But that amount could jump with increased use of air conditioners as temperatures soared and computers and phone charging for those who work at home.

The utility said it understands and shares the concerns of its customers “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,” the utility said.

About 75 protesters gathered outside Eversource’s headquarters in Berlin, denouncing the utility, with some characterizing it as greedy for ever-rising profit. Nick D’Angelo and Cheryl Koda of Newington said their monthly electricity bill doubled in a little more than a month, to $238 from $110 for a condo.

“This is outrageous,” D’Angelo said. “Everyone budgets money.”

“There’s no additional money,” Koda said. “Where do you take it from?”

Protesters gather outside of Eversource's 107 Selden St. location off of the Berlin Turnpike Friday, July 31, 2020, in Berlin. The group was gathered to protest the distribution rates of their recent bills, in which the bills were at least doubled compared to recent months.
Protesters gather outside of Eversource's 107 Selden St. location off of the Berlin Turnpike Friday, July 31, 2020, in Berlin. The group was gathered to protest the distribution rates of their recent bills, in which the bills were at least doubled compared to recent months. (Kassi Jackson/Hartford Courant)

Brian Bonas of Bristol said he’s not interested in the dispute between Eversource and Millstone about which company is responsible for rising rates.

“Everyone is pointing fingers,” he said.

Eversource cited what it calls a “state-mandated energy subsidy” related to Millstone, forcing it to purchase higher-priced power that’s partly to blame for increased costs. The nuclear power plant and its allies insist it did not ask for, or receive, a subsidy. Parent company Dominion Energy Inc. said Millstone was struggling to compete with natural gas that was coming down in price and needed access to markets where solar and winder power resources competed to be included in utility energy portfolios.

Dominion pointed to nuclear plants in the U.S. that shut, telling lawmakers that without favorable legislation, a similar fate was possible for Millstone.

In ordering the rollback, PURA cited the “convergence of a number of recent events,” including the coronavirus and heat waves that are contributing to greater residential electricity use.

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“As a consequence, the authority has received numerous correspondence and complaints related to the delivery charges incurred by Eversource ratepayers,” regulators said.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers put aside partisan differences to praise regulators and criticize Eversource.

“PURA made the right call in suspending these increases and providing relief to customers,” said Sen. Len Fasano, the Senate Republican leader, and Sen. Paul Formica, ranking Republican on the legislature’s energy and technology committee.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Eversource has a “variety of excuses, like ‘the legislature made us do it or Millstone.’ ”

Eversource announced Friday it’s extending financial assistance to customers who got sticker shock with the delivery of their July bills.

The utility said it will work with customers to manage and reduce their “future bills.”

“We share the concerns of our customers and know that this is an unexpected cause of distress during an already challenging time,” said Penni Conner, senior vice president and chief customer officer. “We’re committed to working one-on-one with customers to help reduce their energy bills and to provide flexible payment solutions.”

Eversource worked with the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to establish a no-fee, no-interest COVID-19 payment program. Eversource also is expanding eligibility for qualifying customers to the New Start program, which forgives overdue balances as customers make current payments to their bill.

Stephen Singer can be reached at ssinger@courant.com

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