The Redding Community Gazette
The Redding Community Gazette
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Election 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.

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 can’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. It’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, Eversource’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.

Eversource’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 they’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 couldn’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 we’ll take whatever action is within our power.

In early September, the Energy Committee, of which I’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 doesn’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 " that’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 Eversource’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, it’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.

135th Connecticut Assembly District Candidates, Easton, Redding & Weston

Anne Hughes - D

That thousands of CT. residents were again left without power after yesterday’s thunderstorms underscores the need for us to act decisively to better protect Connecticut utility customers from deficient planning and underinvestment in our grid, at Eversource and United Illuminating, power companies that clearly need more oversight to help ensure adequate storm preparedness. As we deal with the pandemic recession and face the most worrying hurricane forecast on record, we need better assurances that consumers and businesses will have the power they need--and quite frankly deserve since we pay among the highest electricity rates in the country.

Yesterday’s hearing with Eversource and United Illuminating corporate executives was underwhelming. Incredibly, they seemed to identify trees as the major culprit responsible for the widespread outages that have plagued this state for years. While trees may be a factor, I didn’t hear them put forth or commit to a comprehensive strategy designed to decrease outages or to adequately explain surprise rate hikes. This is why we’ve drafted the Take Back Our Grid Act, legislation that calls for legal liability for electric distribution companies, strengthening PURA, and providing for consumer compensation during outages. It would also require minimum in-state staffing and mandate the burying of power lines, especially in highly vulnerable areas.

Transparency on rates is absolutely essential for consumer protection and economic growth in Connecticut. We pay the highest electricity rates among all 48 continental states, according to the US Energy Information Administration. For too long, our legislative approach to mitigating consumer energy bills has focused on promoting energy efficiency and conservation, rather than directly addressing electricity rates. With the Take Back the Grid Act, we propose a rate freeze, as well as stakeholder involvement in future rate increases. According to the USEIA, one of the primary causes of our high rates is the structure of the industry, where the vast majority of power is supplied by non-utility generators.

We need to view power companies as providers of essential public services and move toward an accountable, transparent public utility model so Connecticut households and businesses are charged fair rates for essential services. Otherwise, our economic growth will be constrained by profit-driven corporations who can raise rates with shareholder dividends as their top priority, rather than the welfare of Connecticut ratepayers and business owners. We have the right to expect adequate investment in measures that can make the grid more resilient and deliver reliable power to Connecticut customers. It's not just hurricane season. It's also "accountability season" in Connecticut.

Anne Hughes is the current State Representative for the 135th Assembly District. You can learn more at: https://www.annehughesproactivect.org/

John Shaban - R

We deregulated our power industry as a nation 25 years ago to separate generators from transmission companies and thus allow for competition across both services and new markets. While we have seen some success privately and publicly with this structure, the distribution networks in Connecticut have regrettably become centralized into a handful of distribution utilities " Eversource being the largest.

The outages and failures that we saw recently were due largely to a lack of leadership by state and local government to call Eversource and UI to task before the storm. Indeed, we addressed these issues 10 years ago legislatively and, until recently it seems, where able to manage outages and storms before they hit. Sadly, while we still have mechanisms in place, our current batch of leaders has seemingly become complacent and simply hoped that Eversource and UI would carry the load -- a grievous lapse in leadership and judgment.

With that, rates cannot go up in this environment. Our citizens, legislators and regulators can and must demand that transmission companies do a better job managing repair and response times, and link any proposed rate increases to that metric. We can and should create built-in penalties and/or rate freezes for repeated failures.

Eversource must also create a more regional and responsive structure that can leverage their size while responding locally, swiftly and with rapid communication. Absent some renewed focus on these issues, we will again hear calls for breakups and/or complete government control of the grid, both of which are inferior choices.

John. Shaban was the three term state rep from 2011 to 2017 and didn’t run for a fourth term in 2018 to instead run for the U.S. Congress. You can learn more at:http://www.shabanforstaterep.com/home


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