CT OKs $141 million in Eversource charges for storm recovery
Connecticut regulators are allowing Eversource Energy to charge customers an extra $141 million over six years to recover money it spent to repair lines after five storms in 2017 and 2018.
Eversource will begin collecting in May the first of six installments of $23.5 million each, under the company’s agreement with the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority under the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
With dual headquarters in Hartford and Boston, Eversource is one of Connecticut’s two dominant utility companies along with Avangrid based in Orange.
Eversource’s historic Connecticut Light & Power operations generated a slight increase in earnings last year, contributing $378 million to the parent company’s $1.04 billion profit in 2018, with Eversource also running Yankee Gas and Aquarion Water in Connecticut, as well as NStar Electric in Massachusetts and Public Service Co. of New Hampshire. Eversource is scheduled to release on May 2 its results for the first quarter of 2019.
The authorized charges cover the costs of recovering from a storm that generated significant winds and rain starting Oct. 31, 2018; a trio of nor’easters that pummeled Connecticut in March 2018; and tornadoes and gusting winds that struck western Connecticut that May.
“We’ve identified many additional automation and ‘storm-hardening’ opportunities following the rash of nor’easters and tornadoes that struck our overhead electric system last March and May,” said Phil Lembo, chief financial officer of Eversource, during a February conference call with investment analysts.
Across the five storms, Eversource sent crews to fix nearly 19,500 trouble spots like downed lines, poles and transformers that caused power outages for more than 960,00 customers. The final PURA authorization is about $11 million less than what Eversource had sought initially, factoring both the company’s downward adjustments and those by PURA regulators.
The Connecticut Office of Consumer Counsel had objected to multiple line items in Eversource’s final tally, including what it described as “the vast number of meals” costing more than $25 for which the company sought reimbursement. PURA analysts concurred with Eversource’s explanation of the costs as reasonable to provide calorie-packed box lunches to tide workers over for extended hours in the field.
Eversource spent more than $31 million on payroll to cover labor costs in dealing with the storm. Eversource averages $196 an hour in costs to dispatch its own crews to deal with an outage, according to the PURA document, and $450 an hour in hiring outside contractors for assistance.
PURA noted that Eversource is seeking more than $6 million in costs from Frontier Communications for costs Eversource wants the Norwalk-based telephone company to cover, and that Eversource has indicated it will seek authorization to recover those amounts from ratepayers if Frontier fails to foot the bill. Under a joint tree-trimming program with Eversource Frontier is responsible for 30 percent of the companies’ combined costs.
Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman