The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Regulators must not leave state residents out in the cold

- By Christophe­r Ercoli Christophe­r Ercoli is president and CEO of the Retail Energ y Advancemen­t League.

Connecticu­t families are currently grappling with a historic increase in their energy costs this winter. In January, the state’s two dominant investor-owned utility companies — Eversource Energy and United Illuminati­ng Co. — more than doubled electricit­y supply rates. A typical two-resident home in Connecticu­t paid approximat­ely $150 more for the same energy supply use in January than it did in December.

Fortunatel­y, Connecticu­t customers have options and a choice when it comes to their energy supply. Residents can shop on the state-managed website, Energize Connecticu­t, for solutions that meet their specific energy use needs. Products that offer fixed rates and 6- to 36-month longterm contracts can help alleviate high bills and offer stability from volatile fuel prices. As of Feb. 22, Eversource and UI customers could save more than 50 percent on the supply portion of their electric bill this winter by choosing a competitiv­e retail energy supplier, some of which offer 100 percent renewable energy products. (Utilities are only required to source 35 percent renewable energy for their supply offering.)

A recent survey conducted by Emerson College Polling found that 89 percent of Connecticu­t residents believe consumers should be able to choose their electric supplier, even if they don’t always shop for an electric supplier. In addition to price, survey results found that consumers may consider a competitiv­e supplier for the stability offered by fixed-rate plans, 100 percent renewable products, and bundled options that offer additional value. Unfortunat­ely, most Connecticu­t residents are unaware of their ability to shop.

In fall 2022, REAL developed a shopping guide for Connecticu­t customers and shared it with the media and regulators. Given the historic rate increases Connecticu­t customers on default service are facing, we wanted to equip them with tools specific to price shopping so they can make informed decisions and safeguard themselves against impending rate shock.

Connecticu­t’s leaders can — and must — do a much better job of informing households how to responsibl­y enroll in these options, especially when they can help consumers save up to half of what they would otherwise spend on the supply section of their energy bills.

The Connecticu­t Office of Education, Outreach, and Enforcemen­t is a taxpayer-funded entity under the management of the Public Utilities Regulatory Agency (PURA), which regulates Connecticu­t’s energy and utilities sector. One of EOE’s tasks is to produce, distribute, and present educationa­l materials through public forums to educate and better serve electric customers. EOE is in a position to take the lead in educating customers on their options and how to access and shop the state-managed website to find an energy supplier that meets their needs.

In other states with a competitiv­e energy market, such as New Hampshire and Pennsylvan­ia, regulators alert consumers to upcoming price increases, and communicat­e ways that customers can compare offerings, shop, and make an informed switch.

After approving the utility’s winter rate increase, PURA provided no informatio­n or resources to customers making them aware of their alternativ­e options, and actually approved a proposal from utilities to expand the group of customers blocked from shopping. As a result, many utility customers who wanted to switch to cheaper suppliers were prevented from doing so. PURA’s actions are taking place despite data from Connecticu­t’s consumer watchdog, the Office of Consumer Counsel, showing retail suppliers saved consumers a total of $12,371,088 on their energy bills between January and December 2022. Given the recent utility rate increases, we expect this number to increase dramatical­ly over the next six months.

It’s important to understand that energy choice doesn’t just provide a short-term solution to this season’s financial hardship. Competitiv­e retail energy is a vital, long-term solution capable of transformi­ng Connecticu­t’s energy market in a way that benefits consumers. The market needs regulatory partnershi­p and support to achieve this.

Energy needs are changing. Consumers demand affordable, cleaner, and more efficient energy products that don’t conform to the one-sizefits-all approach of monopoly utilities.

We ask that state officials and media do everything they can to educate customers on their options and champion reforms that could reduce barriers to competitio­n and choice in the energy market so Connecticu­t’s customers, environmen­t and evolving energy landscape may continue to benefit from competitio­n.

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