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Connecticut utilities tried to collect bills from consumers amid COVID, state watchdog says

electric power lines
Chris Hunkeler

Connecticut’s consumer watchdog called for an investigation last week into the state’s two largest energy providers, Eversource Energy and Avangrid, Inc.

Interim Consumer Counsel Claire Coleman filed a petition with the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority on Friday to look into how the utility companies tried to collect money from customers struggling during the pandemic.

Her office obtained information that the utility companies sued consumers for nonpayment and sought wage garnishment the last two years.

Coleman said in a statement that she is deeply disturbed.

“To learn that our utilities, and to the greatest extent United Illuminating, were pursuing judgments against consumers in court during the COVID-19 state of emergency rather than directing them to the many assistance and relief programs available during this time is shocking. I welcome a full investigation into this matter,” Coleman said.

In response, Eversource and Avangrid said their utility subsidiaries followed the state’s pandemic-related orders by keeping energy service steady during COVID-19 and suspended new legal action against consumers late on payments.

Both companies said they will comply with any state investigation.

“We have and continue to empathize with customers struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic and have fully complied with the PURA’s directives in this area,” said Tricia Modifica, a spokesperson for Eversource Energy. The petition identifies its subsidiaries Eversource, Yankee Gas Services, and Aquarion Water Company of Connecticut.

“In addition to imposing a moratorium on service disconnections, out of an abundance of caution, we voluntarily suspended all new legal collections beginning March 13, 2020, which have not restarted,” Modifica said

Avangrid also defended itself in a similar manner.

“United Illuminating, Connecticut Natural Gas and Southern Connecticut Gas — subsidiaries of Avangrid, Inc. — were some of the first utility companies in the region to suspend turn-offs due to nonpayment at the start of the pandemic,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “As the pandemic continued, we helped customers take advantage of the numerous products, government assistance and services designed to help them pay for their energy use in a flexible and customer-friendly manner. This includes options such as interest-free pandemic payment plans, suspension of late payment charges, and referrals to assistance programs.”

Clare is a former news fellow with WSHU Public Radio.