Republicans pitch plan to cut electric bills, but could it hurt the environment?

Connecticut already has the second highest electric bills in the country.

John Craven

Feb 23, 2024, 10:47 PM

Updated 51 days ago

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As electric customers face yet another rate increase, Republican leaders unveiled a plan to cut your bill on Friday.
But critics say the savings could end up costing the environment.
"IT'S CRAZY"
Connecticut already has the second highest electric bills in the country.
"It's crazy, on the gas also," said Joan Sumpter, of Norwalk.
And they could go up again. Eversource is asking the state for an average $38 per month increase starting in May. For United Illuminating, it's $26.
"Everything higher, higher, higher," said Bob Raleigh, of Norwalk.
Now, Republican lawmakers are proposing sweeping changes.
"It has to come to an end," said the new Senate GOP leader Stephen Harding (R-Brookfield).
Utilities blame two major factors for the rate increase: losses from a shut-off moratorium for customers who can't pay, and higher prices they must pay for electricity from the Millstone nuclear power plant.
In the short term, Republican leaders want to cover $190 million in the shut-off losses with unspent federal American Rescue Plan money. Longer term, their plan would cap costly power purchase agreements, like the one Gov. Ned Lamont negotiated to keep Millstone open through 2029. Had the plant shut down, Connecticut would have lost one-third of its energy supply.
"We're still allowing double the market standard to procure other, cleaner levels of energy," Harding told reporters. "We're just simply saying, it has to cap somewhere."
Republicans also want to move certain "public policy" fees from customers' bills to the state budget. And they're proposing to separate the agency that sets utility rates – the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) – from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).
PURA has aggressively rejected utility rate hikes under chair Marissa Gillett. In response, Eversource and UI have warned that they might not be able to invest in upgrades to accommodate electric vehicle infrastructure.
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT?
Connecticut aims to get 2,000 megawatts of electricity from offshore wind by 2030, but that could be nearly impossible under the Republicans' strict price caps.
"It would never happen," said state Sen. Norm Needleman (D-Essex), co-chair of the Legislature's Energy & Technology Committee. "It would mean the end of wind and solar as we know it. It would mean the end of most hydropower. It might mean the end of Millstone."
Republican leaders said that's an exaggeration.
"I think, under our plan, we're more likely to see solar and wind and battery succeed in the long run, because we're making a competitive marketplace where they're forced to actually compete for people's business," said state Sen. Ryan Fazio (R-Greenwich).
Environmental groups are also concerned about another part of the Republican plan – bringing more natural gas supply into Connecticut.
"I think it's nonsense," said Needleman. "New York basically answered that by saying, 'No new pipelines.'"
Electric customers say, they just want relief.
"It's going to come to a point where you've got to choose in between what you eat or what you have to pay for," said Claude Harrison, of Norwalk.
The rate increases are not a done deal. PURA will hold a public hearing on March 18, and is likely to reject at least part of the request.


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