On Wednesday, Eversource named Steve Sullivan, a long-time employee of the company, president of Connecticut operations. The move was part of an agreement with state regulators intended to improve the company’s storm response after Tropical Storm Isaias.
But while the company described the move as a commitment to rebuilding customer confidence, state lawmakers and the state’s chief regulator questioned the need for the new executive position and the wisdom of the settlement that created it.
Sullivan, a resident of Connecticut’s northeast corner who has worked for Eversource for more than 30 years, will take on the new role and oversee the company’s storm response and allocation of resources for Connecticut, according to a press release from the company.
Sullivan currently serves as the Transmission Project Management and Construction Vice President for all of Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, where he has overseen transmission and substation projects and built his knowledge of the electric system’s operation, the company explained.
The company announced that Sullivan will lead a team focused specifically on Connecticut that includes field operations, regulatory affairs, and communication with communities.
State Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, co-chair of the Energy and Technology Committee, said he understood the position was included in the settlement agreement as a way to make Eversource more accountable to Connecticut’s interests, but he didn’t agree that creating an executive position with an undetermined salary that customers would pay for was the right way to do it.
PURA Chair Marissa Gillett, the lone member of the PURA board who voted against the settlement agreement, said in her written dissent that the new position promised only “nebulous” benefits in exchange for another executive position with an executive salary – who will still be accountable to the Eversource board over the interests of Connecticut.
Needleman said when lawmakers passed a wide-ranging bill in the wake of Isaias that was aimed at making Eversource more accountable, they included a provision requiring Eversource’s corporate board to have representatives from each of the three states it serves that are proportional to the number of customers in that state. In the law, Eversource wouldn’t be allowed to make any major acquisitions in Connecticut without meeting that condition.
Currently, Needleman said just one of the 12 members of Eversource’s Board of Trustees is a Connecticut resident, while Connecticut residents make up 40 percent of the company’s customers.
“The hand-in-hand nature of corporate boards with shareholders and senior managers today is part of the problem with American capitalism,” Needleman said. “It’s not functioning in the best interest of the majority of the people.”
Needleman said he didn’t know Sullivan, but was told he had a long history with the company. While he wasn’t optimistic that the new position would make Eversource more accountable, he said he would have to see what Sullivan does in the role.
Needleman said it was frustrating that attempts from lawmakers and Gillett to hold Eversource accountable were negotiated out of the settlement agreement – which traded a cut to the company’s return on equity and a temporary rate cut, for bill credits that will amount to about $34.25 for the average residential customer, and concessions that included giving up the right to appeal an additional Isaias penalty and creating the new position of president of Connecticut operations.
State Rep. David Arconti, D-Danbury, told CT Examiner in a recent interview that the settlement – negotiated by Gov. Ned Lamont and Attorney General William Tong – was not what lawmakers had in mind when they charged PURA with investigating an interim rate decrease as part of the “Take Back Our Grid Act.”
Arconti said the goal of the bill was to give PURA the tools to “go to the mat with Eversource.” He said that penalizing the company’s return on equity penalty was a step in the right direction, but questioned the creation of an additional taxpayer-financed position at the company.
“I don’t think all that outcry from customers over the last 18 months, I don’t think they wanted another executive,” Arconti. “I think the last thing Connecticut ratepayers want is another Eversource executive making millions of dollars, which eventually they will pay for.”