Op-Ed: CL&P’s rate increase request outrageous, morally indefensible

Connecticut Light and Power Company has proposed an increase in its fixed monthly residential charge from $16 a month to $25.50 a month, an increase of nearly 60 percent.

With surprising candor, the company has admitted that it wants to make up for revenues that are lost when people take the initiative to make their homes more energy efficient or install solar panels.

Op-ed submit bugNow that might seem like a reasonable business decision, but CL&P is no ordinary business. The state of Connecticut guarantees it a monopoly in its service area, which means the majority of Connecticut families and businesses have no option of leaving CL&P for another company. That is why the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) is charged with ensuring that CL&P operates in the public interest.

So would this rate increase serve the public interest?  We don’t think so.

It would place an undue burden on low-income customers. It would reduce the incentive for energy efficiency and rooftop solar, and it would discourage the expansion of a clean energy sector that can provide green jobs for workers right here in Connecticut.

This is no ordinary rate increase. Increasing the fixed fee takes control of the electricity bill away from the customer and gives it to the company – customers have to pay the fixed fee before they ever turn on a light. As a typical residential customer who uses about 700 kWh a month, more than half of your distribution charge will become fixed rather than variable.

The annual increase of $114 in the fixed fee will hit hardest those with the least ability to pay – including low-income families and seniors – and have a proportionately greater impact on the electric bills of those who use less energy. Such a measure is morally indefensible.

The higher fixed fee also becomes a disincentive to conservation, energy efficiency, and rooftop solar. Why bother taking such steps if they will have little impact on your bill?

That, unfortunately, seems to be the point. Charles R. Goodwin, director of rates and forecasting for CL&P’s parent company Northeast Utilities, testified that the motivation for the proposal is to reverse the downward trend in revenue caused by customers using less electricity.

In other words, CL&P wants to charge us more for electricity because they are selling less.

That’s outrageous on its face. But consider that Connecticut has long-established policy goals to increase energy efficiency and conservation – goals that CL&P customers support with tens of millions of dollars each year through the programs of EnergizeCT and goals that are designed to meet the carbon dioxide emissions reductions required by state law.  And those goals are more than just good public policy; they are necessary steps to address climate change and safeguard the goodness and abundance of creation.

Just as crucial is the need to create good jobs in Connecticut by continuing to grow an industry that provides energy efficiency and renewable energy to our households and businesses. In contrast, CL&P currently employs fewer linemen per capita than it did 20 years ago and is in the process of closing a dozen of its maintenance garages across the state. So in addition to being an environmental issue and a social justice issue, the proposed rate increase is also a labor issue.

You might think a 60 percent boost in the fixed fee would satisfy the most voracious appetite.  But no. CL&P is also seeking to increase its guaranteed rate of return to 10.2 percent and declares the fixed fee should really be in the $35 range. Since no other state in New England has a major electric company with a residential fixed rate charge of more than $14 per month, it sounds like corporate profit rather than the public interest is guiding CL&P’s proposals.

California, facing a similar proposal, passed legislation capping its residential fixed rate charges at $10 per month. Such a move here in Connecticut would certainly seem to serve both the interest of social justice and the moral imperative of climate protection by encouraging conservation and the increased use of renewable energy. And we could create more Connecticut jobs in the process.

That sounds like the public interest.

Teresa Eickel is executive director of the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network (IREJN). Lori Pelletier is Executive Secretary of the CT AFL-CIO.  Together, IREJN and the CT AFL-CIO have created the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs to strengthen collaboration among the state’s labor, environmental, and religious groups in advocating for public policies that protect the climate and create good-paying jobs here in Connecticut.

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