Eversource zaps CT with fast rate hike, slow storm response

Crews with utility trucks down from Brunswick, Canada, await their orders Wednesday at Carluzzi's Georgetown Market in Wilton, Conn., on Aug. 5, 2020.

Crews with utility trucks down from Brunswick, Canada, await their orders Wednesday at Carluzzi's Georgetown Market in Wilton, Conn., on Aug. 5, 2020.

Jeannette Ross / Hearst Connecticut Media

WILTON — Eversource is not looking too good right now in the eyes of power customers and local officials.

First, there were many complaints about the power company’s substantial delay in restoring power outages caused by Tropical Storm Isaias which swept through the state on Tuesday.

Second, residents are also reeling from sticker shock from a sudden rate hike in their July electric bills.

Both incidents have sparked public outrage, prompting Gov. Ned Lamont to call for two investigations into Eversource by the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA).

On Friday, three days after Storm Isaias, there were 396,289 Eversource customers still without power statewide. In Wilton, 5,517 customers were still in the dark, 73.25 percent of the town, about the same amount out during the storm’s peak. The numbers are similar and higher in neighboring towns.

Eversource did not offer much reassurance on restoration times, saying in a statement, “Full power restoration may go into next week,” and it hopes to make “significant progress” by the end of the weekend. The company expects restoration to be “substantially complete” by Tuesday, Aug. 11, a week after the storm.

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice and other first selectmen complained about Eversource’s storm response in a conference call Thursday night with Gov. Lamont and the Eversource incident commander for the state.

“We expressed anger and frustration with Eversource’s non response to safety issues, their lack of communication and overall poor handling of the emergency,” Vanderslice said in a message on the town website. “I spoke about the number of Wilton landlocked roads, which historically were first priority, but now have largely been ignored by Eversource. Every first selectman voiced the same issue within their community.”

She said the meeting ended with a frustrated governor telling the “beaten up” Eversource incident commander that landlock roads and other public safety issues must be a first priority and Connecticut needs more Eversource personnel on the ground.

Following the call, Lamont requested the Connecticut National Guard to help in the restoration efforts.

He also called for PURA to conduct a thorough investigation of utility companies Eversource and United Illuminating, for the widespread outages that left hundreds of thousands of customers without power.

He said the companies’ response to the storm has been “wholly inadequate” and wants to know what specific steps the companies took in the lead-up to the storm which had been forecast to impact Connecticut several days prior to making landfall and remained relatively on the track that meteorologists had predicted.

“Several years ago, Connecticut experienced large-scale outages that took days to recover from, and we were told that the utilities were improving their resources so that they can be prepared for the next time Mother Nature inevitably hits again,” the governor said in a statement. “And now here we are, with a wholly inadequate response to another storm.

He’s asked PURA to investigate and determine whether the companies are meeting their legal obligations and whether any penalties need to be applied.

For many, the response by Eversource to this latest storm is a case of too little, too late, repeating the same message it does before major storms. On Monday afternoon, 24 hours before Storm Isaias hit, Eversource issued a press release saying the energy company’s line and tree crews “are ready to respond to any damage or outages caused by this storm.”

Vanderslice said that clearly wasn’t the case. She said Eversource’s incident commander said the number of power outages was overwhelming. She noted that most power crews in Wilton have been called in from outside Connecticut.

“As this [PURA] investigation is done, they need to look at the number of Connecticut crews Eversource has onsite during these incidents. How many of them can respond immediately,” she said.

She also complained that Eversource’s new “e-alert system” did not work for a period of time during the storm, so customers had trouble reporting outages. “That needs to be fixed. They started out way behind because they were not getting information from their customers,” she said.

Rate hikes

Lamont has also asked PURA to conduct an investigation into Eversource for rate hikes issued to customers in their July bills.

For some households, their electric bills were hundreds of dollars more than the previous month.

Eversource defended the hike in a statement on July 31, saying a state-mandated energy subsidy went into effect in July to support the Millstone Nuclear Power Plant’s continued operation.

There was also another fee increase to support grid reliability and the safe operation of Eversource’s high-voltage transmission system, the company said.

Another explanation for higher rates, Eversource said, was consumer energy consumption was higher in the summer due to air conditioning and even higher this year due to more people staying at home due to COVID-19.

In response, PURA ordered Eversource to immediately suspend its recent rate increase and restore rates to where they stood on June 30 while it conducts its investigation.

Wilton state legislators — Sen. Will Haskell, a Democrat, and Rep. Tom O’Dea, a Republican — are encouraging the public to weigh in as part of the investigation.

Comments are now being accepted by PURA for a public hearing to be scheduled in August.

“Share your perspective on what you think about your most recent electric bill,” O’Dea said.

Email brief comments to pura.information@ct.gov and include Docket Number 20-01-01 in the subject line.

Written comments may be submitted to to PURA at:

Public Utilities Regulatory Authority

10 Franklin Square

New Britain, CT 06051

Make sure to include Docket Number 20-01-01 in your letter.