Connecticut Light & Power's proposal to increase electric rates by $231 million drew sharp opposition from senior citizens during a teleconference Tuesday hosted by AARP and featuring the state's consumer counsel.
Caller after caller decried the proposal, which would take effect Dec. 1 if not modified by the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority. They argued it would be a hardship on those with fixed incomes, and said Connecticut's electric rates are already higher than those in neighboring states.
Consumer Counsel Elin Swanson Katz, AARP advocacy director John Erlingheuser and Tom Swan, of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, all pledged a vigorous fight against the proposal, which gets a series of public hearings beginning Wednesday.
"It's unfair to ask consumers to pay so much," Katz said. "We simply don't agree that they need this much of an increase of anything."
The utility said the increase is essential to maintain overall service quality and improve the system's resiliency during storms, and that previous rate increases have made outages less common.
"Our system must be able to deliver power reliably to all customers, no matter how much they are using," according to a CL&P statement. "Our request to adjust monthly charges is driven primarily by expenditures to replace aging infrastructure and strengthen the system."
The utility said the proposed increase would cost a typical household, which uses about 700 kilowatt hours a month, an additional $150 a year.
Part of the proposal is for an increase in distribution charges, which would pay for new and stronger poles and wires, additional transformers and new substations. But most of the increase is driven by the fixed rate, which would jump from about $16 a month to a little more than $25.
Erlingheuser called that figure "egregious."
"We will fight to make sure CL&P doesn't receive unjust rate increases," he said.
Much of the teleconference, which AARP said included 10,000 listeners, was devoted to discussing how the utility's proposal would affect low-income families, seniors and those with disabilities.
"Seniors and disabled people have a tremendous need for electricity," Erlingheueser said. "So they are in a position to pay more money than they don't have, or cut back, which could be detrimental to their health."
Katz argued high fixed costs discourage conservation.
"We all want people to conserve energy, and this takes away that incentive because you have to spend so much before turning on a light," Katz said.
PURA has asked for a $109 million reduction of CL&P's original proposal.
Erlingheuser and Swan urged the audience to help PURA fight its case by attending upcoming public hearings. Katz said it's imperative to show regulators the impact of the proposal on real people.
"It's the job of PURA to show that those numbers are not written in stone," Katz said. "We can show the numbers are wrong and consumers voicing their concern on how they can't afford this."