To the Editor:
Earlier this week, Attorney General Tong, Consumer Counsel Coleman, and leading members of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Energy & Technology Committee held a press conference to raise concerns related to the ongoing United Illuminating rate case. At issue, according to this group of public officials, is their claim that UI is engaging in a public relations campaign to influence PURA’s final decision outside of what they consider the “proper channels.”
There’s a certain irony in making this argument during a press conference – especially one just four days before PURA issues its final decision in the rate case at hand. The Attorney General, Consumer Counsel Coleman, and Senator Norm Needleman in particular have issued press releases praising the draft decision and have made various public comments in support of PURA’s decision making. It appears they feel they have a special right to a platform on these issues that need not be granted to rank-and-file utility employees or those most impacted by the outcome of this rate case. That hypocrisy aside, I must address the inaccuracies and misinformation put forward at this week’s press conference, which obscure the real consequences at stake for UI’s employees, customers, and Connecticut’s sustainability goals.
First, in an inflammatory and baseless statement, Attorney General Tong accused UI of engaging in personal attacks against PURA Chair Marissa Gillett. This charge is completely baseless. Since the draft decision was released, UI, its employees, contractors and partners, have been exclusively focused on the negative impacts the decision would have on the state’s workforce, its economy, and UI’s ability to provide safe, reliable, and sustainable service. We take no issue with the Chair personally – but we do feel, as with any public entity, PURA’s decision-making is not above scrutiny or criticism. There is simply too much at stake.
Beyond this particularly flagrant falsehood, the officials at the press conference made overarching references to how the draft decision is tied to UI’s “performance” and how this decision is one of the first displays of applying performance-based regulation. But performance-based regulation is still under PURA’s review. In fact, PURA has only completed the first year of its three-year review and application process. Holding UI to, and expecting us to meet, a standard that has not been defined violates the basic rule of law and fairness – that standards should be clearly established before being applied.
Utilities are very good at meeting clear and transparent standards, even when those standards are heightened. We believe that our 7,500 pages of evidence and testimony was a full and complete accounting for our rate case as required by the Standard Filing Requirement (SFR), and in the future, we are confident our talented staff will exceed PURA’s standards when performance-based regulation emerges. But in the present rate case, UI submitted the same level of detail that has met PURA’s expectations for over two decades, which renders Consumer Counsel Coleman and Attorney General Tong’s characterizations of a supposedly “weak” or “unsubstantiated” case puzzling and disconcerting.
If Friday’s decision looks anything like its first draft, UI’s employees, our customers, and Connecticut’s clean energy transition will all face significant harm. Attorney General Tong and Senator Needleman insist they support rank-and-file employees, but there is no way to shield UI’s union workforce from the cuts to compensation, the diminished requests for headcount increases, or the elimination of training programs that are critical to keeping our frontline workers safe. Such a decision will render significant harm on their ability to do their job safely and receive proper compensation for their critical, often dangerous work.
Ultimately, our customers – who currently enjoy 99% reliability, or less than one outage per year on blue-sky days – will bear the brunt of delayed or disallowed capital investments that keep their power going on the hottest days and coldest nights. Later, when PURA realizes it must approve those expenditures, they’ll be more expensive than ever. And Connecticut’s clean energy goals will remain stubbornly out of reach as long as PURA continues to deny UI’s request to build new infrastructure projects, like electric vehicle chargers, that are key to decarbonization and aligned with the goals of the Lamont Administration.
We agree that our increasingly urgent reliability and sustainability goals will require a partnership between PURA, the Attorney General, the General Assembly, and the utilities. I look forward to working with these colleagues in the future to achieve them.
But under the terms and conditions proposed in the draft decision, a “partnership” would put our employees, customers, and our own green energy goals at risk. I will continue to support our employees and partners that choose to raise their voice and share their concerns about this rate case and its impact on the future of our company. They deserve a platform and the opportunity to be heard as much as any elected official – and if our regulatory officials and lawmakers chose to listen to their concerns, we might just make progress toward a reasonable, responsible outcome.
Reynolds is the President and CEO of the United Illuminating Company.