The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT)

Natural gas hike draws fire

Consumers call for 16 percent rate drop

- By Bill Cummings

HARTFORD — Consumer advocates are demanding Eversource drop a requested 16 percent rate increase for natural gas, noting the electric company is already reaping profits from new federal tax breaks and doesn’t need a costly price hike.

“Eversource is on notice: if they persist in this unconscion­able, massive rate increase I will help consumers in opposing it,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, referring to a rate case before the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority.

“Consumers are watching and cannot afford this rate hike,” Blumenthal said. “Eversource has reaped millions in federal tax breaks and has no justifiabl­e reason for yet another sweeping rate hike.”

Eversource is requesting a 15.9 percent hike in natural gas rates over the next three years that would cost consumers $49 million more in the first year.

“The public policy behind the rate request is wrong for ratepayers and wrong for the company over the longer term,” said Tom Swan, director of the Connecticu­t Citizen Action Group.

“We call on Eversource to rethink this strategy and do the right thing,” Swan said.

In a statement, Eversource said the overall $86 million rate increase has already been reduced because of the federal tax cuts.

“Thanks to the changes in tax law, we’ve reduced our total request by more than $44 million,” said Mitch Gross, an Eversource spokesman. “It’s important to note our request is to further strengthen the natural gas distributi­on system and continue to provide our customers top-tier reliabilit­y.”

Gross said the extra money is earmarked for replacing existing cast iron and bare steel gas main lines with newer plastic pipe, which he said is safer, more durable and better able to handle fluctuatio­ns in undergroun­d temperatur­es.

“These investment­s minimize repairs and service interrupti­ons, so our customers have the energy they need for every moment of their lives,” Gross said.

Eversource’s gas customer base has increased over nine percent since 2011.

Blumenthal said Connecticu­t consumers already pay the tenth highest natural gas rates in the nation and said

recent rate increases approved by PURA for the Connecticu­t Natural Gas Company and the Southern Connecticu­t Natural Gas Company were less than a third of Eversource’s request.

He said the millions in annual tax breaks handed to Eversource from the massive tax cut recently approved by Congress more than offset the need for another rate increase to improve gas lines.

Chris Phelps, director of the Connecticu­t Public Interest Research Group, also said the rate hike is unnecessar­y. “This proposed rate increase is really unconscion­able and outrageous,” Phelps said.

“We know as a state and a nation that we have to shift off fossil fuels toward zero carbon energy resources,” Phelps said. “When utilities are trying to invest in new infrastruc­ture and stick consumers with the cost, that’s a burden that will become an albatross around ratepayers and our economy.”

“This proposed rate increase is really unconscion­able and outrageous.”

Chris Phelps, director of the Connecticu­t Public Interest Research Group

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