Bethel Community Gazette
Thursday, September 24, 2020 •
Candidates Discuss TS Isaias Response, Outage Prevention and Utility Rates
We asked candidates for state office to provide their thoughts on the issues of storm preparation, response and utility rate increases.
24th Connecticut Senate District Candidates, Bethel, Danbury, New Fairfield & Sherman
Julie Kushner -D
Tropical Storm Isaias hit Connecticut on Tuesday, August 4 with winds of 65 mph. Local emergency officials warned of prolonged power and communications outages.
My husband Larry and I lost seven trees in our yard. I know most of you lost trees, lost food, suffered damage to your home, perhaps experienced some local flooding â€" and like many of you, were without power for days and days.
More than three weeks later, the questions remain: Why were the power outages so widespread and prolonged? Why have customers delivery charges been raised so high to a level unrelated to their electric usage?
Just before the debacle of Tropical Storm Isaias, Eversource was in the news for electricity bills that doubled following its customer rate hike on July 1. The Public Utilities Regulatory Agency put that Eversource rate hike on hold and that will show up as a reduction in bills in September. However, that still affects two months of customer bills at the worst possible time.
After the two hearings which investigated Eversource for their outrageous rate hikes and woefully inadequate storm response, their answers were underwhelming and insufficient. Two-thirds of Bethel suffered power outages and was one of the last to get fully power restored during a pandemic with many people working from home and caring for loved ones.
It's not as if Eversource is hurting for resources. On July 31,The Hartford Business Journal reported that Eversource declared profits $252 million in the first quarter of 2020. Eversource CEO Jim Judge got a 33 percent pay raise last year to $19.8 million, which included a $3 million bonus. At the same time, Eversource has cut the number of line workers that it employs by 20 percent.
I will be holding a Town Hall with Energy & Technology Committee Co-Chair Rep. David Arconti on important legislation on taking back our grid on Facebook Live on Sept 3rd at 6:30 pm at Facebook.com/SenatorJulie. I hope you can join me as we seek to hold our utilities accountable.
Susan Chapmen - R
The recent power outages caused by Tropical Storm Isaias caused much pain and suffering for many residents in the Greater Danbury area. While we canâ€™t control Mother Nature, we certainly should use every tool available to us to hold Eversource responsible for itâ€™s completely unacceptable response to the storm and the ridiculous amount of time it took to get the lights back on.
Itâ€™s is clear now based on the public comments by Eversource representatives and municipal officials that Eversource was woefully unprepared for the storm and incompetent in their restoration efforts. The most vulnerable among us â€" including our senior citizens, those with medical conditions, the homeless â€" were put in very dangerous positions due to the negligence of Eversource.
Since the â€śderegulationâ€ť of utilities in Connecticut in the late 1990s, the performance of power companies has only gotten worse. Eversource (previously known as Connecticut Light and Power and Northeast Utilities) has seemingly operated as a profit-first entity, at the expense of residents who rely on their services. Electricity is not a luxury in our modern world, it is a necessity. I believe in free markets and free enterprise, but the company operates in our state as a regulated monopoly and should be treated as such.
The Legislature should either break up Eversource into smaller, regional entities or once again regulate the company appropriately so that customers come first. Customers who lost food or medicine in the aftermath of Isaias should receive reimbursement for their losses. Particularly in these difficult economic times, Eversource needs to dig into their pockets and do the right thing here. Some municipalities, including Danbury, are considering legal action against Eversource for the poor response to Isaias. I will support those efforts as they move forward.
Legislative hearings, like the one held with Eversource officials on Aug. 27 are a start, but we must not let up until utility companies in Connecticut are held accountable and make the necessary changes to convince us that their response to the next major storm will be up to par.
26th Connecticut Senate District Candidates Bethel, New Caanan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport & Wilton
Will Haskell - D
Recently, my office was flooded with complaints from constituents who all said the same thing: their electricity bills had jumped by significant amounts without any noticable increase in usage. I noticed a dramatic increase in my own electricity bill, and I'm grateful that this regulatory body has interceded to halt rate hikes. I'm testifying today in favor of a more permenant solution: performance-based regulation.
In the wake of Tropical Storm Isaias, it could not be more clear that Eversource has prioritized corporate salaries over investments in grid hardening and storm preparedness. Going forward, this regulatory authority ought to financially incentivize our public utilities to be accountable to the public. Without meeting certain thresholds of power restoration and customer service, rate hike requests should be summarily denied.
Although this may sound harsh, I had the unique perspective of representing a district in Southwestern Connecticut that was among the hardest hit by last month's storm. Many of my constituents were without power for up to 10 days. I've encouraged them to submit testimony so that you can hear directly about their experiences. Among the calls that my staff and I received, I won't easily forget the seniors who were at risk of overheating, the asthma patients who were having difficulty breathing, and the constituents who saw their sewage pipes back up. When I checked in on neighbors, I met constituents who needed to charge their wheelchair or oxygen machine. Many families I met couldn't afford to throw out the hundreds of dollars of spoiled food or medication in their refrigerator. Time and time again, my constituents told me that they could justify paying more for electricity if they saw some return on that investment. Yet in the days after the storm, it became clear that the energy monopoly had produced a grid that is neither affordable nor reliable.
I don't blame Eversource for the weather. We live in New England and storms happen. But a company that makes billions in profits off of serving our community should be prepared for a problem that announced itself 5 days in advance in the southern Carribean. Alarmingly, the First Selectmen and Selectwomen in my district tell me that communication with Eversource has only gotten worse since Hurricane Sandy. I would encourage PURA to consult with municipal leaders when considering rate hikes, as perhaps this would make public utilities feel a bit more accountable to the Emergency Operations team within every Town Hall.
My constituents have exactly one choice when it comes to whom to pay for their electricity. That's why we rely on PURA to impose strict regulations and demand that the public interest come before corporate bonuses. I look forward to working with you on hardening our grid, decentralizing energy distribution and reducing the costs that families and businesses in Connecticut face.
Kim Healy -R
Eversource has failed Connecticut residents too many times, from Irene to Isaias, and our regulatory bodies permitted unwarranted rate increases. On top of spending among the highest rates for electricity in Connecticut, we receive service we canâ€™t depend on when we need it most. Nutmeggers deserve better, and we can do better, but it starts with a change of leadership in Hartford. Without better leaders, we will not be able to appropriately leverage the regulatory authorities in the state to hold Eversource accountable. Worse, we will leave those who have gotten us into this mess in positions of power. Itâ€™s time Connecticut votes for and receives real change.
2nd Connecticut Assembly District Candidates, Bethel, Danbury, Newtown & Redding
Raghib Allie-Brennan - D
Plain and simple, Eversourceâ€™s response to Tropical Storm Isaias was an abject failure.
The lack of adequate preparation, the inability to respond to customers in a coordinated and coherent manner, and the fact that some ratepayers remained without critical electric service for more than a week, are all indicative of a lack of leadership and competence at the top of the organization.
Eversourceâ€™s behavior before, during and after the storm shows a blatant disregard for ratepayers that can only be a result of the fact that they know theyâ€™re the only game in town. Extravagant executive compensation fueled by exorbitant rate increases offer a start contrast to ratepayers unable to replace food and medication lost during the power outages. This irresponsible behavior cannot go unchecked.
On Thursday, I brought the voices of our towns to Eversource during a hearing of the Energy Committee.
I heard from families and individuals from across my District and the theme was the same - a lack of responsiveness and accountability from Eversource.
In Newtown, two days after the storm, a couple in their 90s were still without power. One was blind, the other on hospice and no one could reach emergency services because the landlines were down and nurses couldnâ€™t make calls because of cell tower outages. This couple deserves answers.
In Redding, three days after the storm, I received a call about 300 seniors at Meadow Ridge on generator power that were running out of water as the emergency region had no water left to give.
I received similar calls for help from Bethel and Danbury. This is just unacceptable.
During the Eversource Hearing, I pressed their leadership to make amends to the people they failed. This included waiving interest charges on late payments, compensating families for most food and medication and financial penalizing of incompetent, overpaid executives whose inability to effectively do their jobs endangered our communities. This far, Eversource has failed to be accountable. So weâ€™ll take whatever action is within our power.
In early September, the Energy Committee, of which Iâ€™m Vice Chair, will consider legislation to require Eversource to act and respond to rate payers more responsibly. I am pushing leadership to take this bill up during the September special session.
In the past, some legislators - past and present - have turned their backs on ratepayers in favor of Eversource. Those days are over. I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure this doesnâ€™t happen again. Connecticut ratepayers pay some of the highest rates in the nation...and they deserve better.
Dan Carter -R
The Energy and Technology Committee has moved quickly to begin a discussion regarding the shortcomings in the response to Isaias â€" thatâ€™s good. Eversource certainly made mistakes and Connecticut residents, rightfully, deserve to understand what went wrong. It is clear that Eversource underestimated the storm and had major communication failures and our residents suffered greatly.
While legislators focused mostly on Eversourceâ€™s staffing, communications, and the fact that Eversource makes too much money, the committee largely ignored their own failure to keep up with tree trimming and removal. In 2012 the legislature unanimously passed comprehensive legislation to address storm response and we provided for more effective tree management. However, as early as 2014, pressure from environmental groups led legislators to back-pedal and create policies they claimed would achieve a balance between safety and the environment, but actually raised costs and deterred tree management efforts. As a result, the cost per mile of vegetation management has increased 50% since 2015. Even last year legislation passed the state house that would continue to make tree management more difficult, legislation my opponent supported.
Last fall state regulators received numerous complaints from municipalities and first responders that budgets for tree trimming were strained and our safety was at risk, prompting regulators to promise a review of their vegetation management strategy this year. Given 70% of power outages are caused by downed trees and both regulators and utilities seem to agree that widespread tree mortality is the largest threat to the electric distribution system, itâ€™s pretty clear we need to do a better job of managing trees.
During the recent hearing, legislators also took some shots at Eversource regarding electric rates. With the recent increases in our Eversource bills, we are right to be upset. After all, we pay the second-highest rates in the country. However, legislators should stay more in touch with reality considering that they, more than Eversource, have control over rates. Under constant pressure to advance green energy initiatives, the legislature continues to ignore the cost put on the backs of consumers and businesses. If we are to make Connecticut affordable, we must rethink the way we deliver electricity in Connecticut.
Once the state regulators begin the investigation and official hearings take place, we will gain greater insight into what hampered storm response and help us prepare for future storms. I guarantee tree trimming and removal will be discussed more thoroughly, but whether legislators actually act will be another issue. Regulators must also determine how Eversource was meeting all requirements in 2018, yet had a miserable storm response two years later. Most importantly, regulators should use their power now from the law we passed in 2012 to hold companies accountable and help ratepayers receive direct compensation for what they endured following Isaias.
107th Connecticut Assembly District Candidates, Bethel, Brookfield & Danbury
Kerri Colombo -D
Eversourceâ€™s exponential rate hikes were unjustified, untimely and demonstrated corporate greed over resident need. Their storm response was abysmal. They need to focus on hiring effective leaders, meeting staffing requirements, and greatly improving services and response time in our communities. They need to ensure that their response teams are in place and effectively directed in cases of emergency. Instead, we've seen a focus on increasing profits while decreasing services. We need to hold Eversource accountable to their customers.
We also need change in Hartford. It's clear that there are too many legislators employed by Eversource. They can't represent us if they are busy representing Eversource, and we're left wondering what influence they have behind closed doors. It's so disappointing that the legislature has failed to control costs, enact proper oversight, or fight for the people of Connecticut. If we want things to change, we need an advocate in Hartford who can get things done, and currently that isn't happening. We need Representatives who aren't employed by the utility companies and advocating for the utility companies. We need to elect Representatives who advocate for us. We need forward thinkers who advocate for power lines to be buried so we aren't left without power year after year. Our Representatives need to ensure upfront and proper oversight of our utilities to control costs before they attempt unwarranted rate hikes, not just provide lip service in hindsight afterward.
Stephen Harding -R
In regards to the storm response, I have met constituents in our district who were out of power for over a week; many others were out for nearly that period of time, as well. Now we are over 3 weeks removed from the Tropical Storm hitting our State, yet we are no closer to getting any real answers from Eversource. In fact, their chief official never even addressed the residents of our State at any point during the outages. We as legislators hold an important responsibility to assist in the regulation of our Stateâ€™s utilities. As part of this role, we need to ensure that our utility companies and their officials are held accountable for lack of transparency and incompetence, both of which we saw from them in this latest storm. I, as a State Representative, am committed to taking significant action to hold these officials accountable for their unpreparedness and negligence. Also, I am committed to working with PURA to take the necessary steps to ensure that such negligence never happens again by any utility company in our State. Significant steps need to be taken by both PURA and our State Government in order to ensure the aforementioned for our residents. It is clear that the way in which our utility system operates in our State is ineffective and unacceptable. Thus, significant changes need to be explored and ultimately implemented.
In regards to the unacceptable rate increases levied by Eversource upon their customers, I thank PURA for suspending these rate increases and investigating these rate requests. First, PURA should also order the rebate to customers for the one month already paid with these unacceptable increases. As all of you know, we are in an unprecedented time in our State and Nation, a time in which many residents are unfortunately struggling financially. These individuals deserve to have this money back in their pockets, not in the hands of Eversource. In my opinion, a company paying their executive officials millions of dollars, making billions of dollars in profit, and being afforded a monopoly; in no way, shape or form deserves an increase in their rates. If anything, they should be discounting rates to our residents. As State Representatives we have the ability to craft legislation and regulation to assist in necessary efforts to address unacceptable utility rates in our State. We need to act now in this regard.
Significant action needs to be taken. Our Stateâ€™s Government in conjunction with PURA need to ensure that utility prices are fair, their services are good, and they are transparent and approachable to the customers they serve.
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