A program meant to incentivize a broad shift in home heating from oil to natural gas has come to an early end, far short of its lofty goals, as regulators found rising costs didn’t justify the limited interest in the program.
The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority voted 3-0 to end one of former Gov. Dannell Malloy’s key energy programs on Wednesday – a program that incentivized customers to shift to natural gas by subsidizing the upfront costs of connecting to gas mains.
When the program was implemented in 2013, Malloy set a goal of converting 280,000 new customers to gas by 2023. By the end of 2020, fewer than 90,000 customers had switched using the program, and the cost of adding new customers had risen dramatically, PURA said.
PURA Commissioner John Betkoski said that when the program was approved in 2013, it was a “great idea” that had wide support. But the program was always meant to be phased out, and when subsidy programs like it are continued, “it’s always on the backs of ratepayers,” he said.
“I think this decision is timely, and I think it’s well thought-out,” Betkoski said.
Connecticut’s two largest utility companies – Eversource and Avangrid, which serve about 640,000 customers in Connecticut through their gas subsidiaries – asked PURA for more time to enroll customers who had shown interest in the program but have not signed contracts, along with customers who live along gas mains still under construction.
The companies will be allowed to send only one notice to those customers to inform them of a deadline to sign a contract – which will be 90 days after PURA approves each company’s notice to those customers.
Betkoski said people can still connect to natural gas, they just won’t be offered the same incentive.
“They’ve had eight years, and people who are in the queue can sign up [for the incentives],” Betkoski said. “If not, they can just sign up as they normally would with the gas program.”
Responding to Eversource’s comment in a filing that it could have “advanced the legal argument” that state law didn’t allow PURA to change the program before it was already set to expire at the end of 2023, PURA Chair Marissa Gillett said it’s the company’s right to appeal PURA’s decision to Superior Court.
“I would look forward to having closer scrutiny on how the program did not deliver on its promises to ratepayers,” Gillett said.