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Fix approved for 'unintended consequence' that locked some CT residents into service with Eversource

Electrical power lines as utility rate increases are announced
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
Power lines in Berlin, Conn., on July 31, 2020. State officials announced relief options in response to utility rate increases by Eversource and United Illuminating.

State regulators issued a decision Wednesday intended to address problems with a trial electric program to help people avoid shutoffs.

The decision approves a plan from Eversource to allow people who were automatically signed up for the shut-off protection program to switch their electric provider.

Previously, the trial shutoff protection program, which automatically enrolled participants, had prevented those customers from switching from the standard electric offer from Eversource. That rate is going to roughly double at the start of 2023.

“The Authority finds that Eversource’s proposed approach is reasonable given the current circumstances, and most importantly, still offers shut-off protection during the Winter heating season (i.e., November 1, 2022 through May 1, 2023) for customers who were originally identified through the trial, should they need it,” the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority wrote in its decision.

Some customers were enrolled in the program mistakenly. They complained when they were unable to switch to a third-party electric supplier on the EnergizeCT online marketplace.

“Those customers who were captured by this trial data will now maintain the protections, the benefits of the trial program, without the unintended consequence of being prevented from moving over to a third-party supplier,” state Consumer Counsel Claire Coleman said.

Eversource will need to make some changes to its information technology systems, before customers who were automatically added to the shut-off prevention program will be able to switch electric providers. It was not clear if the changes could be put in place in time to allow customers to change their electric provider ahead of the rate hikes on Jan. 1.

Electric rates are expected to double for Connecticut Eversource and United Illuminating customers on the standard service residential rate from those two companies. The rates are only part of the bottom line on customer bills, but they could equate to an average residential customer paying about $80 more per month for their electricity.

Both Eversource and UI are encouraging Connecticut customers to reach out about available financial assistance and payment plans. The utilities are also working with state officials to provide monthly bill credits aimed at mitigating a portion of the price hike slated to begin on Jan. 1.

Note: Gregory B. Butler, who is an executive with Eversource Energy, is a member of Connecticut Public's Board of Trustees.

This story has been updated.

Matt Dwyer is an editor, reporter and midday host for Connecticut Public's news department. He produces local news during All Things Considered.