As regulators get ready to shut down a program that subsidizes Connecticut customers to connect to natural gas, the two largest utility companies in Connecticut are calling for more time to sign up customers who have already shown interest as part of an “orderly wind down” of the program.
The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority issued a draft decision in March where the utility regulator said it intended to end the Gov. Dan Malloy-era program as soon as April 27, citing less interest in the program than expected, rising costs, and limited environmental benefits.
The PURA board meets Wednesday morning to vote on a final decision, and will address the utilities’ requests in that order.
Eversource and Avangrid – who serve about 640,000 natural gas customers through three subsidiary companies in Connecticut – told PURA they need time to inform customers who have said they want to convert to natural gas but haven’t signed a contract that there is a deadline to sign up.
PURA set April 27 as the deadline to sign a contract in its proposed order, and barred the companies from using ratepayer money to continue marketing the program, which the companies said kept them from informing interested customers of the impending deadline.
Shutting down the ability to sign contracts as soon as the order is approved by the PURA board on Wednesday could exclude nearly 400 customers who have expressed interest in the program but haven’t signed a contract from receiving the benefits, Eversource said.
That includes the Connecticut National Guard Readiness Center in Putnam, public schools in Norwalk and Shelton, the Middletown Department of Public Works Tradesman Building, the Colchester Senior Center, and the Waterbury Water Pollution Control Facility, Eversource said.
“Eversource was caught within a proverbial ‘Catch 22’ because it had agreed to refrain from [marketing the program] while this docket was pending, but on the other hand, these customers have a right to know when the window to sign up under the [program] closes,” the company told PURA.
Avangrid said its subsidiaries Connecticut Natural Gas and Southern Connecticut Natural Gas have heard from 375 customers who live on an existing main and are interested in connecting to gas since August 2021. They have also been talking with fuel cell developers, “large educational institutions” and large residential developments about connecting, the company told PURA.
Avangrid said the April 27 deadline was “arbitrary,” especially since the utilities couldn’t notify potential customers that it was coming. It recommended allowing 90 days for interested customers to sign a contract and receive incentives, and Eversource called for six months.
The companies also asked for clarification that they would be allowed to continue enrolling customers along gas mains that they have already begun to build. The program currently gives the companies five years after gas starts to flow through the new mains to sign on customers to connect using the program’s incentives.
Eversource said it has about 60 projects under construction, and each of them was developed based on forecasted revenues. According to Eversource, changing the rules for projects that have already begun could make it harder to reach those revenues, potentially adding costs to all gas customers.
Eversource said it could appeal PURA’s decision on the grounds that an early end to the program violates state law that requires it to run for 10 years, but said it would rather reach a “reasonable compromise,” to grandfather in active projects and projects with contracts already in place, and give interested customers more time to sign contracts.