A 79-page bill that increases the power of the Public Utility Regulatory Authority passed the Connecticut State Senate in a late-night unanimous vote at the end of Thursday’s session.
The bill, which includes 18 new or tightened rules, represents an expansion of the Take Back Our Grid Act in 2020. That law, which was passed as a response to the impact of Tropical Storm Isaias, was aimed at increasing the accountability of utilities.
Among its provisions was the establishment of Performance Based Ratemaking, which PURA is still working to implement after unveiling the framework earlier this year, and included new rules about executive salaries and minimum staffing levels.
The new legislation, Senate Bill 7, includes broad measures that both put limits on the power utilities have to recoup costs and gives PURA and its chairperson more power to make regulatory decisions.
Some of these changes address specific concerns brought to the legislature by PURA Chairman Marissa Gillett. Speaking with CII back in January, Chairman Gillett expressed her dismay that utilities are allowed, under state statutes, to recoup a wide variety of costs through charges to ratepayers.
“I think one of the most misunderstood things about PURA is the assumption that were the consumer advocate,” explained Gillett at the time. “We’re more like judges, where you’re putting stuff in front of us and you’re advocating. The utility is there, you’ve got the consumer advocate, you’ve got any other parties intervening, and they’re all trying to convince us that they have the evidence that a cost should be passed on or it shouldn’t.”
Under this new bill, companies like Eversource, United Illuminating (UI), and municipal utilities would not be allowed to increase delivery rates to recoup costs from contested PURA proceedings, membership dues or other payments to trade organizations, lobbying, or advertising costs. The exact amount that this could save ratepayers was not immediately obvious.
The bill also includes provisions allowing PURA to set certain rules which limit the amount of money companies could recoup from other expenses outside their base rate. Additionally, it would set certain caps on executive compensation and provide bill credits for that compensation charge if rates increase more than 10%. The bill would also make the cost of new power plant additions ineligible for recoupment through billing.
In addition to rate-related rules, the bill also creates new rules regarding the role of the PURA chairperson. Under the bill, the chairperson will be chosen by the governor every two years. More notable, though, is a rule which allows the chairperson to appoint rate cases to a single commissioner who can then make unilateral decisions. Under current law, a panel of three commissioners oversees these cases similar to a panel of judges. Contested proceedings would be decided by a majority vote of the sitting commissioners.
In addition to these changes, the bill would also require expanded accident and power outage reporting, and requires utilities to fund nonprofit organizations engaged in energy assistance programs.