OPINION: Who’s responsible for state’s surging energy costs?

By Len Suzio

As I write this op-ed, the politicians in Hartford are demanding that the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) suspend the whopping electricity rate increases imposed on consumers in July. But if you understand the whole story, you will know that these very politicians bear responsibility for the expensive electricity they now decry.

The truth is, Eversource is not the only party responsible for Connecticut’s ultra-expensive electricity. Our political leaders have mandated that the utilities purchase an ever-increasing volume of expensive and unreliable “green” energy, and that mandate is a major factor driving Connecticut’s skyrocketing electricity costs. And the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority and the Office of Consumer Protection have failed in their responsibility to protect consumers against greedy utilities demanding high electricity rates to make more money.

Here’s the real story.

First, Eversource does bear significant responsibility for its outrageous charges for transmitting electricity to Connecticut consumers. In its talking points about the rate increase, Eversource said the nearly 50% increase in the Transmission charge “was primarily caused by substantially lower transmission loads.” In other words, because Connecticut electric customers conserved energy and reduced their electric bills, the utilities had to charge more to make up for the money saved by customers. The situation would be comical if it were not so tragic.

Everyone in Connecticut pays substantially more for the delivery of electricity than they pay for the cost of generating that electricity. My July electric bill shows $90.01 for the cost of electricity and $147.95 for the “delivery” of that electricity to my house. From June to July, the transmission charge on my home bill jumped from $20.96 to $32.15 — more than a 50% increase.

Clearly the utility companies are a big part of the problem. But that’s only part of the story.

Even more significant is the Legislature’s decision to mandate the use of much more costly and far less reliable energy sources. In 2018, the General Assembly passed a controversial bill, SB-9, which required the utilities to purchase an ever-increasing volume of energy from “renewable” energy sources. The legislation mandated that the utilities increase their purchase of expensive and unreliable renewable energy from 17% in 2018 to 40% of all energy in Connecticut by 2030.

As part of the legislation, a special deal was struck to isolate part of the energy purchased from the Millstone Nuclear Plant under a special arrangement that recognized the carbon-free nature of that energy, thereby increasing the price paid to purchase that energy. This was done in the face of a threat by the plant owner to shut down the facility (which generates about 56% of the electricity used in Connecticut).

The mandate to use much more expensive “renewable energy” and to isolate up to 50% of the Millstone plant’s generation and order it to be bid under special arrangements virtually guaranteed that electricity would become much more expensive for Connecticut consumers.

During the State Senate floor debate on SB-9, I asked the sponsor of the bill, Senator Gary Winfield, if he had considered the added cost burden for consumers. He responded that he knew renewable energy would be more expensive, but he didn’t know how much it would add to consumer costs! Not a single senator followed up on that critical issue.

When the vote was tallied, I was one of only three senators who voted against the bill. I voted “no” because I considered it grossly irresponsible to impose even more expensive electricity on Connecticut families.

The new July 2020 rates represent increases of 40%, 174% and 60% compared to 2018 rates on some of the most significant electricity “Delivery Charges” on your bill!

In a Record-Journal story (7/27) about the controversy, State Representative Liz Linehan, a Democrat who voted for SB-9, defended the vote by saying the bill “only approved a purchase deal” without specifying the costs. But as I had pointed out in my remarks on the floor of the State Senate, anyone with common sense would know that the mandate for the utilities to buy ever-increasing volumes of high cost and unreliable energy would lead to higher electricity costs. In fact, the Record-Journal story states, “The Millstone deal requires Eversource to purchase power at higher cost for the next 10 years.” So, the excuse “we only approved a purchase deal” doesn’t fly.

The final part of this sad tale is that the so-called “watchdog” on behalf of consumers, PURA, approved the Millstone deal fully knowing that it substantially lowered the risks to Dominion (the plant owner) and virtually guaranteed a high rate of return of 15%!

Everyone except Connecticut consumers got the better of this deal. The politicians responsible for this fiasco want to know why. But now you know the real story; the politicians caused it.

Former state Sen. Len Suzio is Republican candidate for the 13th Senate District.