New Haven To UI: Not One More Dime

Markeshia Ricks Photo New Haveners concerned about a proposed rate increase said that they want United Illuminating to have the infrastructure to withstand superstorms, but that they’ve already paid for it.

The electric company is asking the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) to grant a more than $100 million distribution rate increase over a three year period. The increase would generate $65.6 million next year, $27.1 million the following year and another $13.4 million in 2019.

That would raise individual customer bills by an average of about $30 a month over that three-year period, according to the Office of Consumer Counsel.

The counsel’s office opposes the rate increase. It also came out for reducing by almost $10, to $7.63, a residential fixed charge that UI levies.

UI said it needs the increase to replace poles and wires and make other investments to avoid power outages during major storms.

More than 35 residents from New Haven and other parts of the state attended a PURA hearing Monday in the Hall of Records at 200 Orange St. to oppose the rate increase. They said some people already can’t afford their bills. And they argued that the rate increase de-incentivizes energy-efficiency efforts.

Several people also argued that UI is primarily seeking to line the pockets of its new parent company, Spain-based Iberdrola.

Frank Panzarella said that stats already showed during the last rate increase request that Connecticut residents are having trouble paying their bills. He asked what made UI think that customers can afford to pay more.

“I don’t think that situation has improved,” he said. “I haven’t seen the current statistics, but I would bet that it’s even higher than it was then.”

He also called UI hypocritical about increases. On the one hand, he said, the company panned the push for solar power because the company claimed it would hurt low-income people. But when customers attempted to be more energy efficient and reduce their bills, the company went back to the state to ask for a rate increase to make up for lost revenue.

“If they’re so concerned about low income people, why are they now slamming them with all of these increases?” he asked. “I don’t think they are. They’re punishing people who are doing what the state wants people to do—conserve energy.”

David Desiderato of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment argued that individual customers who invest their money in trying to do the right thing and conserve energy by reducing their consumption get hit with an unwelcome reality — their usage goes down, but their bill stays up, because of a fixed charge in their bills. When customers see no real change in their bills, they’re less likely to make the investments in efficiency, he said.

“We’re not saying UI shouldn’t recover the just and reasonable costs that they incur on our behalf to supply services,” Desiderato said. “We’re saying that those costs should be recovered in different ways, in ways that encourage customers to the greatest extent possible to use energy efficiently and to invest in greater efficiency.”

“Reducing or eliminating the fixed charge advances state policy, encourages conservation, is supported by nearly every one including administrative and legislative decision makers, and does not have a negative financial consequences for the utility,” he said. “By not taking this action [of reducing or eliminating the fixed rate] opens the door to even higher charges.”

“Is the sky the limit, once we go down this path? Other states around us haven’t gone down this path,” he added. “We have by far the highest rates around, anywhere. And it’s not just residential customers. Look at the rates that business customers pay; they are similarly high.”

Environmentalist Lynne Bonnett said she wants the lower rates that New York and Massachusetts have.

“Given the historical high rates we’ve been paying in Connecticut, why [do we] need to pay more to meet our needs than our neighbors?” she asked. “Is Connecticut mismanaging our assets?”

She argued that rate increase disproportionately hurts the urban poor. Even though UI has a community benefit program, many people don’t qualify for the benefits because they don’t own their home, and if they do, they’re often waitlisted, Bonnett said.

Angela Hatley said she simply can’t afford another increase, especially when she has invested in making her home more energy efficient and not seen any benefit to her bill. She also dismissed infrastructure improvements that don’t involve putting electrical infrastructure underground, where it would be protected from the elements.

“They’re basically gouging us,” she said. “I don’t see how we should be paying a company that’s been in business for a long time and knows this is what you need to do to keep your electricity flowing. It shouldn’t be an expenditure that you continually come back to ask me to invest in. I read here that this is an investment. Doesn’t an investment mean a return on the money? An investment doesn’t mean put money out there and I have to pay for it. It means that you will get your money eventually.

“I don’t want them to get another cent,” she said.

Newhallville resident Ken Joyner argued that the company gets plenty of money but not only neglects his neighborhood, but also doesn’t have a great track record in New Haven when it comes to outreach.

He said any rate increase would be license for the company to continue to destroy trees outside of Newhallville.

“They don’t even come down to do regular maintenance and repair,” he said. “They don’t trim, they don’t come out and put new poles in because they’re leaning, or fix wires that are dipping in the street.

The Company’s Side

To Joyner’s point, one of the reasons that UI is asking for the rate increase is for tree trimming around power lines as well aso replacement of older substations and new poles and wires, according to UI Vice President for Communications Michael West.

West said that rates have been flat for about three years. In that time maintenance has been ongoing. But it requires money to bring needed improvements and guard against climate change problems such as superstorms that cause severe power outages. He said the company is trying to balance what it’s hearing from customers through its own surveys of customers, but also what is heard in public forums like the one held Monday.

“We do know about 51 percent of our customers have said through surveys that we’ve done a few months back that they’re not willing to pay less for more outages,” he said. “We really posed the question to say that if we decided to not have higher rates to fulfill what we thinks is necessary, would you be willing to accept more outages? Because that’s usually always the impact. So, there is a choice to be made.”

Though UI got slammed at the hearing, he said the process is a good one.

“I don’t know many services where you actually get a say in what the changes of the rate should be,” he said. “There are many other services where you don’t have a say. It’s democracy at work.”

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posted by: robn on September 13, 2016  8:27am

CT has one of the most regulated energy markets in the country yet we pay the highest rates. What’s wrong with this picture?

posted by: wendy1 on September 13, 2016  8:47am

The small turnout was depressing .  The shark hat says it all about your utility rates.

I spoke and said “History does repeat.  The Conquistadors are back.  Remember the Incas and Aztecs??
Why is our grid now owned by Spain and who let this happen.  Is it because Spain is better at greed than UI??”  Others also questioned this behind the scenes deal that made rich UI management way richer while valuable lineman got fired because they increased the overhead.

Shame on the state and shame on PURA if they dont do something.

Two of us mentioned to the tiny crowd that grid storm changes for new climate were caused in part by UI’s plants and practices and they should pay for grid change….they and their new boss IBERDOLA.

posted by: 1644 on September 13, 2016  9:27am

That 51% figure shows the dilemma for UI and PURA.  People are evenly split between those who would pay more for fewer outages, and those who, like me, would suffer through some storm damage in return for lower rates.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on September 13, 2016  9:29am

It is not just United Illuminating.Have you all seen you Regional Water Authority water bills.They have gone up.

The essence of capitalism is to turn nature into commodities and commodities into capital.

Michael Parenti, Against Empire

posted by: DemoTape on September 13, 2016  9:56am

@Wendy1 Xenophobia is not useful or value added to this discussion.

posted by: Realmom21 on September 13, 2016  10:47am

UI has LOST its way. They no longer represent a company that cares about the community or its employees . It has become about the almighty dollar. I have had a relationship with UI for well over forty years.  Only in the past 15 as a customer but I was the child of career employee so I have personally observed the changes. Ui is using the excuse that it has spent so much money on preventative measures (i.e. tree trimming ) as a reason for WANTING (opportune words WANTING/ not needing an increase. BU to those of us who KNOW and pay attention that is a crock of …..You see the state requires UI to put a certain amount of its Profits into an emergency fund. That fund is there for UI to use when horrific storms occur and UI has to work feverously to restore power, cut trees, clear debris etc. The irony is that that fund had not been tapped into for a few decades. SO it was beyond in numbers. As a matter of fact it was used to bolster the value of UI when its parent company sold . This is fund is two fold because there is also a fund for SOUTHERN CT Gas CO. The other utility that UI bought out a few short years ago and is turning a hefty profit on. SO UI in reality hasn’t spent anything above and beyond for the hack tree jobs it has been doing across the state. In addition this increase will do nothing to improve the quality or efficiency of the service. It only benefits the companies pockets.
As a share holder I love dividends however I am mindful that they should not be at the absurd expense of the general p public of which doesn’t have pay increases, that continuously has to contribute more towards medical cost, that has more fees (both legitimate and whimsical on their utility ,cable and cellular bills all of which generate MORE profit.
UI has and continues to have record profits. This request is nothing more than an opportunity to increase the benefits packages of the extreme wealthy president, CEO and board members of this company. They have minimalized what th

posted by: jim1 on September 13, 2016  12:14pm

Looks like the shark is putting the Voodoo, Zen, Reiki or whatever on you.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on September 13, 2016  12:53pm

Increased utility costs are not good for business or families.
Capitalism is once again out of whack. Looting and pillaging have to be stopped.
These public boards and commissions are a waste of taxpayer dollars.
The revolving door from industry to public boards to lobbying firms is well know.

posted by: Bradley on September 14, 2016  6:49am

I staffed the legislature’s Energy Committee for 25 years. Frank and Paula Panzarella were among the few non-lobbyists who regularly showed up for the committee’s public hearings.

3/5ths, as its name states, the Regional Water Authority is a public authority. It has no shareholders and operates on a non-profit basis. It replaced the for-profit New Haven Water Company back in the 1970s. Capitalism has structural problems, but the authority is not part of the capitalist structure.

posted by: Realmom21 on September 14, 2016  12:36pm

Just learned something minutes ago that just goes to show how bad UI and other utilities try to get over on general public..These utility companies depend on OUR elected officials to sanction them to use bonds to repair their infrastructure. They aren’t going in to their pockets and taking any of their profits to fix or make things better. They take our money and pocket it. Money management 101 PAY YOURSELF FIRST then figure everything else out.Then they SELL bonds to come up with the money they want to spend to make repairs upgrades etc. THEY NEVER spend more then what they can raise becaseu then they would be coming out of pocket.Then they take whats left of the monies they raised during the sale of bonds to pay interest on those same bonds. Nothing short of a three card Monty scam and our elected officials sanction all of this nonsense. We see fees on top of fees that are explained as needed cost to keep system up running at a high level of function but then in same breath play us ..The working class people are scammed yet again

posted by: Dwightstreeter on September 14, 2016  5:24pm

to quote Bernie Sanders: “The system is rigged”.

I’d unplug my toaster to protest these rate increases, but I don’t own one.

posted by: LynneB on September 15, 2016  5:30pm

I, Lynne Bonnett, testified as a citizen of New Haven,  At no time did I reference my association with the New Haven Green Fund.  It was not appropriate for this journalist to include any membership I have with any organization in my testimony before PURA re the proposed rate increase.  I identified myself solely by my name and address.  Please remove this reference in the article.  Thanks. Lynne Bonnett

posted by: robn on September 15, 2016  7:01pm

If someone gives public testimony as an individual but is involved with an organization that has an interest in the subject matter, it’s completely appropriate for a journalist to identify that affiliation (even if the person states or implies that they are not representing that organization.) Markeshia did nothing wrong.

posted by: LynneB on September 15, 2016  10:12pm

Let me be very clear then.  I, Lynne Bonnett, testified as a private individual.  My comments are mine alone and do not represent those of the New Haven Green Fund.  The New Haven Green Fund is foundation that issues grants.    I would appreciate it if you would remove your reference to me in the article since I was not speaking for them but for myself.  At no time did i say, “we” but always “I”.  Thanks,

posted by: robn on September 15, 2016  11:43pm

LYNNEB,

Until you state with credibility that your organization has no interest in the public proceedings in which you’re testifying (ostensibly as an individual) it’s germane and appropriate for a journalist to mention your association.