Electricity customers in Connecticut are noticing bills with higher prices this month, the result of a deal approved last year between the Dominion Power Station and Lamont administration.
The bill increase, expected to continue for the foreseeable future, comes as hundreds of thousands of state residents are unemployed or have been furloughed because businesses were forced to shut to slow the coronavirus, many more are working at home and using their computers and charging their phones and Connecticut is sweltering through a heat wave, driving up electricity use for air conditioners and dehumidifiers.
“The timing couldn’t be worse,” said Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, and a critic of the deal.
Eversource, which sends its monthly bills to 1.25 million customers, says it was forced to pay an additional $124 million as a result of the 10-year agreement with the state’s sole nuclear plant, state legislation and approval by Connecticut energy regulators.
Tricia Modifica, a spokeswoman for Eversource, said prices are rising for two reasons: “State energy policy in 2017 required both utilities to buy electricity at a higher price” and consumers are using more power in a heat wave and while they are working at home, she said.
A change.org online petition has gathered more than 59,000 signatures protesting what it calls Eversource charges. An event is also planned at Eversource for Friday to protest against the increased rates.
United Illuminating, which serves 335,000 customers, also sells electricity from the New England grid supplied by Millstone and other generators. A spokesman reported “no big changes” to rates in July due to Millstone.
Dominion Energy Inc., which runs Millstone, threatened to shut the Waterford plant’s two units in 2023 if an agreement hadn’t been reached in March 2019. It would have resulted in the loss of 2,100 megawatts of carbon-free power from New England’s electric grid, including about half of Connecticut’s power.
That, in turn, would have hindered the state’s ability to meet its long-term clean energy and greenhouse gas emission reduction mandates. In addition, the shutdown of Millstone would have led to a loss of as many as 1,500 jobs in southeast Connecticut.
“Now we can renew our focus on offshore wind and other renewable energy resources to fully transition to a clean energy grid by 2040,” Lamont said at the time.
Lesser called it a “bum deal” and accused Millstone of blackmailing the state.
“I took the threats and concerns of my colleagues seriously,” he said, citing Millstone’s size and its impact on emissions, the regional grid and jobs had it shut.
“What we had is a Fortune 500 company when market conditions are good, ‘We want all the profit and when market conditions are bad we want to stick it to the ratepayers,‘” Lesser said.
Kenneth Holt, a spokesman for Dominion, said Millstone is charging 4.999 cents per kilowatt hour, one-third less than the standard offer of Eversource.
“Eversource seems to be telling only part of the story,” he said.
He said Dominion was being realistic when it said a shutdown would have been necessary. Dominion and its legislative allies pointed to several nuclear power plants in the U.S. that shut because they were unable to compete with low natural gas prices.
“You don’t want to run it at a loss,” Holt said. “And you don’t want to cut costs that it runs unsafely.”
Sen. Len Fasano, the Senate Republican leader, blamed Eversource and called for a legislative hearing.
“We need answers from Eversource, not more rate increases and excuses,” he said. “We need to hold Eversource accountable and have them answer our questions without dodging or placing the blame elsewhere.”
Stephen Singer can be reached at email@example.com.
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