Collateral damage in the electric reg fight last year, a bill to help the poor gets a new look

Advocates for the poor came to the State Capitol today to resuscitate an idea for a discounted residential utility rate that was buried in the sweeping electric regulation bill vetoed last year by Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

The concept is one adopted by every northeast state other than Connecticut: authorize utilities to charge the poor a little less, with the cost being born by the rest of ratepayers. It’s an idea that has support by the utilities, but it got caught in the cross-fire over the big utility bill last year.

“Approving this rate is the best way to help our lower-income families and elderly close the affordability gap,” said Patricia Wrice, the executive director of Operation Fuel.

The affordability gap – the difference between what it costs for the poor to heat their homes and what they could pay – was $480 million last year, according to a study Roger Colton, an economist.

His study produced an affordability gap number for every legislative district in the state. If you are curious about your town, the full report is available here.

In the district represented by Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, the co-chair of the Energy and Technology Committee, the gap is $13.6 million.  He represents half of Hartford and Wethersfield, which has 4,000 households with incomes less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

In the 2009 and 2010 season, Operation Fuel assisted 6,817 households, more than half of which required help obtaining fuel oil.