© 2024 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Critics to PURA: Break Up Conn.'s Largest Power Companies

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut)
Lauren Victoria Burke

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut wants regulators to consider breaking up the state’s largest utility company, Eversource. He proposed creating “a consumer-based utility, possibly with public ownership,” when he spoke at a virtual hearing with the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, or PURA, Monday morning.

Speakers discussed how to prevent widespread outages like the ones experienced after Tropical Storm Isaias. The two private power companies that serve Connecticut, Eversource and United Illuminating, failed to restore electricity to much of the state for a week after the storm. Isaias hit amid customer protests against large utility rate hikes.

Blumenthal criticized Eversource and United Illuminating by saying they charge some of the highest rates in the continental U.S. He urged regulators to look to small municipal-owned power companies in the state as a model for how to better serve customers.

“Public ownership would mirror the advantages that we’ve seen in the municipal-owned utilities,” Blumenthal said, “I’ve visited a number of them, most recently in Norwich, where the rates are 24% lower and the response times in repair are much higher.”

Blumenthal said Norwich customers waited just two days for their locally-run power company to restore service after the storm, while thousands of customers of the two large private utility companies waited a week or more.

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont also asked regulators to prioritize service reliability and accountability.

“Let’s make sure we seize the opportunity to totally reform how we do regulation,” says Lamont. He noted that as sea levels rise, utilities need to make the power grid more reliable by implementing things like clean energy and remote status monitoring of outages.

Lamont said he found the disconnect between high utility rates and service, quote, “shocking”.

The Hartford Courant reports Eversource profited $909 million in 2019, down from $1.03 billion in 2018. Avangrid Inc., UI’s parent company, posted profit of $700 million last year, up from $595 million in 2018.

“I want to make sure that a year from now, when another big storm hits, I’m not hearing desperate calls from nursing homes and desperate calls from homeowners who are stuck without getting the lifegiving service that they deserve,” Lamont said.

Eversource told PURA the company prepared for potential damage from Isaias, but the tropical storm suddenly changed course.

“The anger and depth of customer concern expressed this morning and throughout this ordeal is deeply troubling to me,” said Penni Conner, chief customer officer at Eversource Energy. “Yet, [it’s] understandable under the circumstances.”

Lamont said new regulations are the only option to help Connecticut utility customers, who have no other competition where they can turn.

“There’s no place we can go. Eversource and UI are our two providers. It’s a little bit of take it or leave it — and that’s not good enough.”

Cassandra Basler, a former senior editor at WSHU, came to the station by way of Columbia Journalism School in New York City. When she's not reporting on wealth and poverty, she's writing about food and family.
Related Content