Eversource and United Illuminating warned Thursday that Connecticut customers could absorb large increases in their electric bills in January due to a sustained increase in natural gas prices on the supply component of bills which accounts for about half the cost total monthly.
Eversource is Connecticut’s largest utility with nearly 1.3 million customers in 149 municipalities, while United Illuminating serves approximately 340,000 people in the Bridgeport and New Haven areas as a subsidiary of Avangrid, based in Orange.
On Thursday, Eversource filed new rates for supplying electricity to power providers with the Connecticut Utilities Regulatory Authority, which could add an additional $85 to the average residential customer’s monthly bill, a 48% increase. If approved, the awards will run from January to June.
United Illuminating predicts an average increase of $79 per month for its customers.
Governor Ned Lamont pledged Thursday to find ways to provide relief to Connecticut residents.
“I am disappointed that electric utilities are enjoying historic profits as electricity generation rates increase and customers struggle economically, and I call on UI and Eversource to deliver solutions that recognize that their investors and leaders can and should support customers as we work together to find long-term solutions that detach us from the volatility of global fossil fuel markets,” Lamont said. “Programs are available for those who need help paying their electricity bills this winter, including our energy efficiency programs, which we have kept funded and to which we have provided additional funding to help those who need it most.”
According to ISO New England, the region runs 55% of its electricity on natural gas, with the Millstone Power Station nuclear plant in Waterford generating substantial amounts of the rest alongside New Hampshire’s Seabrook Station nuclear reactor.
Speaking on a conference call in early November, Eversource CEO Joe Nolan said power plants in the northeast were considering potentially severe restrictions on supplies in the event of a cold snap.
A warmer than normal winter would benefit customers, reducing demand for natural gas to heat homes and businesses and easing wholesale prices paid by power plants.
“Whether they’re natural gas or fuel oil, they don’t have a firm fuel supply,” Nolan said. “Because they don’t have a firm fuel supply, when we have prolonged cold snaps these days, they don’t have fuel to run on.”
Under Eversource’s plan, the company’s standard service rate for residential customers would drop from 12.1 cents per kilowatt-hour to 24.2 cents per kWh, up from 11.5 cents per kWh last winter. United Illuminating expects the price of standard service for its residential customers to increase from 10.62 cents to 21.94 cents per kWh beginning in January.
“This is a massive increase that will be unaffordable for many Connecticut families and businesses,” Attorney General William Tong said in a statement. “We’re paying way too much for our energy in Connecticut as it is, and those winter rates are just a pain. My office has intervened on behalf of consumers in all rate cases before the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission because we know how much the cost of energy impacts family budgets. We have next to no ability to challenge these supply rates, which is frustrating.
“Our supply prices always fluctuate between winter and summer, but this is not normal. We are seeing a huge global gas cost spike due to the war in Ukraine and Russian manipulation of gas supplies. As a country and state, we need to take a hard look at our energy sources and reduce our reliance on sources like natural gas that produce these wild, unaffordable rate spikes.
Customers can explore contracts with third-party service providers, with the OCC saying these customers have seen savings in recent years after a long period of paying much higher electricity. Some consumer protections are in place against “indicative” tariffs which are followed by a substantial increase in tariffs.
Eversource advises customers who expect to have problems making payments to consider several support programs offered by the company.
Eversource will also host webinars at noon on December 1 and 8, to help customers learn more about the programs.
In an interview on Thursday afternoon, Eversource Chief Customer Officer Jared Lawrence said, “Budget Billing is a program that essentially takes the normal seasonal fluctuations a customer experiences in their usage to save on billing charges. higher summer air conditioning and heating loads. in the winter, and adjusts that to roughly equivalent monthly payments.
“It’s a program that’s generally good for customers who like to have a nice, predictable bill.”
Information about Eversource payment assistance programs is available online or by calling 800-286-2828. United Illuminating programs are online or by calling 800-722-5584.