Turmoil at Groton Utilities as Leadership Goes Missing

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GROTON – The head of city-owned Groton Utilities, which serves thousands of customers in southeastern Connecticut, has been placed on indefinite administrative leave pending an investigation, according to sources at the utility with direct knowledge of the matter. Ronald Gaudet, an Old Lyme resident and former Navy officer, Pfizer engineer and director of facilities at UConn, has not been seen for more than a week at the utility he has led since 2015, these sources say, but the nature of the investigation was unclear Friday. Attempts to reach Gaudet at his office today were directed to the office of Groton

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State Regulators Set to Cut Eversource Profits, Trim Customer Rates

In a draft decision this week, state regulators signaled that they would require Eversource to drop its electrical rates starting in November, but also limited the time frame during which the utility would be penalized for what the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority found was an inadequate response in 2020 to Tropical Storm Isaias. Those penalties reportedly played a part in Moody’s downgrading the company’s credit rating outlook to “negative” in June.  After Isaias, state lawmakers asked that PURA consider temporarily trimming Eversource rates by cutting the company’s allowed return on equity. While not going as far as an earlier proposal,

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As Residents Pile Up $280 Million in Utility Bills, Aid Organizations Scramble to Help

Connecticut’s moratorium preventing utility shut offs officially ended on Wednesday, and customers with unpaid balances could soon be receiving notices in the mail that their electricity could be shut off. The state’s largest electric utilities, Eversource and United Illuminating, have reported a total of nearly 900,000 customers with some unpaid electric bills, though a large proportion of those are overdue by less than a month. Data from the utilities for customers already enrolled in payment plans show that the average overdue bill is over $1,000 – as some customers had bills pile up during the moratorium that prevented utility disconnections for

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Tie Vote Deals Surprise Setback to North Stonington Solar Project

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A proposed solar project in North Stonington that has been through months of adjustments to accommodate wetlands on its site was rejected by the Connecticut Siting Council by a 3-3 vote on Thursday. Nashville-based solar developer Silicon Ranch’s proposal to clear-cut 44 acres of woodland to build a 9.9 megawatt solar farm in North Stonington faced opposition from the town and neighbors of the project, who questioned the wisdom of clearing so many trees to build a project on land pock-marked by wetlands, with construction coming within inches of neighboring properties. In a non-binding straw poll taken at the council’s

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Faced with $700,000 Roof Replacement, Middletown Debates Microgrid Offer

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MIDDLETOWN — Faced with the need to replace the roof on the city’s future recreation center sooner than expected, Middletown sought out a creative solution that would not only replace the roof, but create a micro-grid complete with solar generation and battery storage that would allow the city to use the center as a warming/cooling and emergency shelter. As Middletown officials surveyed what remains of the former Woodrow Wilson Middle School – set to become a town recreation center – they realized the roof needed to be replaced sooner than they expected when they sold “phase one” of the building’s

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Connecticut Lawmakers Float Reviving TCI Carbon Cap Program in Special Session

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Increased transportation emissions, despite significant progress in reducing greenhouse gases produced by power plants, leave Connecticut still far behind on its goals to reduce the state’s emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The findings, part of an annual report by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection concerning the state’s greenhouse emissions, have spurred renewed calls for lawmakers to approve the Transportation and Climate Initiative – a cap-and-trade program that proponents say would generate $1 billion to fund projects that could reduce emissions from transportation, but that opponents say amounts to an unaffordable and regressive gas tax. Carbon

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Despite Pushback from Eversource, PURA Considers Cut to Company’s Rate of Return

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PURA’s Office of Education, Outreach and Enforcement is proposing a significant cut to Eversource’s allowed rate of return on equity, saying the cut would save residential Eversource customers about $93 million a year.  Based on the testimony of Aaron Rothschild, a Ridgefield-based financial consultant who has testified on utility rates of return since 2002, the proposal to cut Eversource’s rate of return from 8.95 percent to about 7.17 percent has drawn support from Attorney General William Tong, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Connecticut Industrial Energy Consumers.  But Eversource says what customers save now, they’ll lose in

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Officials Downplay Missed Permit Deadline for Redeveloping State Pier

NEW LONDON — Representatives of the Connecticut Port Authority and the wind energy partnership between Eversource and Ørsted downplayed the significance of a delay in the permitting process with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to redevelop State Pier.  A dredging permit was expected before the end of August, but that timeline appears unlikely – raising the possibility that the project could exceed a budget that is already being tightly scrutinized by state lawmakers. Port Authority Executive Director John Henshaw said officials “remain hopeful” the permit will be approved shortly — if so, Henshaw said authority officials “remain confident that

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North Stonington Solar Project Wins Provisional Approval

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NORTH STONINGTON — Despite concerns from some council members and town officials about the environmental impact, Connecticut Siting Council members indicated they would narrowly approve a proposed solar project in North Stonington. In an informal straw poll taken during their Thursday meeting, three council members indicated support for a proposal by Nashville-based Silicon Ranch to clear cut about 44 acres around an abandoned gravel quarry in North Stonington to develop the site into a 9.9 megawatt solar farm.  Two council members said they would not support the project given the close proximity of property boundaries, and its potential to disrupt

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After a Near Miss by Henri, State and Local Officials Assess Eversource’s Response

As Connecticut residents avoided the worst of the predicted storm damage from Henri, state and local officials generally praised preparations by Eversource, though the added cost to customers for the additional out-of-state crews remains unclear. For State Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, co-chair of the legislature’s Energy and Technology committee, Tropical Storm Henri looked like a sort of “fire drill” for Eversource to respond to major storms in the future. Despite forecasts late last week predicting that Connecticut would be hit head-on by hurricane-force winds, and that Eversource customers could lose power for as much as 21 days, sending residents to

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A Will But Not a Way for Lamont’s Transportation and Climate Initiative

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A program that would increase gas prices and raise revenue for projects to reduce pollution from fuel-burning vehicles became one of the most contentious issues in Hartford as the legislative session came to a close last month — and while the legislature is signaling the plan has limited support, it’s not a fight the administration of Gov. Ned Lamont is ready to give up. The Transportation and Climate Initiative, or TCI, would force fuel wholesalers to buy allowances for the amount of pollution generated by their fuel, which proponents say would generate a game-changing $1 billion over 10 years for

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Energy Regulators Shift Costs, Change Formula for Small Businesses in Connecticut

In an effort to help small businesses that have struggled to pay significantly higher electricity rates than other customers, state regulators on Wednesday ordered Eversource to lower fixed costs in two of its commercial rate structures. The changes, which resemble formulas that set consumers rates, will go into effect on Nov. 1. More than 103,500 Eversource commercial customers are currently charged what’s called Rate 30, including small businesses and some schools. These customers pay a fixed rate of $44 per month for the first 2 kW of capacity they need. They pay an additional $14.52 per kW of capacity beyond

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UI Settlement on Overcharges Gets Nod, Performance-based Rates to Move Forward

A settlement agreement for United Illuminating to return money it has overbilled customers is moving forward, say state regulators, after the agreement was amended to address concerns that it could stall the introduction of performance-based rates for Connecticut’s energy providers. Under the settlement, United Illuminating would return the $44.7 million it has overbilled customers since a federal corporate tax cut in 2017. The company also agreed to contribute an additional $5 million which will slightly lower customer rates. Residential customers will see their bills drop by about 5.2 percent starting July 1, in part as a result of the settlement,

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North Stonington Solar Project Attempts Balance of Environmental Priorities

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What started off years ago as a relatively uncontroversial proposal to turn an abandoned gravel quarry located in North Stonington into a 9.9 megawatt solar project, has shifted to a plan to  clearcut 44 acres of forestland — North Stonington Solar Park is latest example of friction in Connecticut between two key environmental priorities: renewable energy production and forest preservation.  In 2016, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection set out to meet the legislature’s mandate to contract with developers to build new renewable energy projects to supply the state’s utilities.  The choice of an abandoned quarry was a

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Democrats Punt on Carbon Caps as Republicans Claim Victory on Taxes

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As Democratic leaders announced their intention to forgo consideration this year of the multistate Transportation and Climate Initiative — an emissions compact that would also raise gasoline prices — advocates of the policy rallied for them to reconsider, while Republicans claimed victory. Speaker of the House Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, and Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven told reporters on Friday that the Transportation and Climate Initiative pushed by Gov. Ned Lamont and his administration would not come up for a vote this year, according to the Associated Press. The announcement followed weeks of Republicans rallying opposition to initiative, and debates

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‘Prevailing Wage’ for Solar Development Passes, Survives Debates Over Uncertain Cost

Legislators broke largely along party lines in approving a bill that will require developers of large solar projects to pay workers the prevailing wage. The bill faced vocal industry opposition warning that the law will add to the expense of solar energy and slow development of additional solar capacity. On Tuesday night, the House voted to approve the bill by a vote of 89-59 , with one Republican voting “yes” and five Democrats voting “no.” The bill later passed the Senate on Thursday night by a vote of 24-12, with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans opposed.  The debate in

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472-foot Ship ‘Charybdis’ to Install Wind Turbines out of New London

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RICHMOND, VA. — Ørsted and Eversource have agreed to charter the first Jones Act-qualified offshore wind turbine installation vessel in the United States from Dominion Energy for the construction of two offshore wind farms located in the waters off New England.  Dominion Energy, Ørsted and Eversource announced the contract on Monday for the 472-foot ship, named Charybdis, which will operate first from State Pier in New London to install Ørsted-Eversource’s 704-MW Revolution Wind and 924-MW Sunrise Wind farms.  Neither Dominion Energy nor Eversource would disclose the cost of the charter agreement due to “commercially sensitive information.” Ørsted could not be

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Report: 1 in 10 Chance Electricity Needs Outstrip Supply this Summer in New England

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Summer heat always carries the risk of power shortages as electric customers use more power to keep themselves cool, but a new industry report says predictions based on extreme and less likely weather scenarios could result in power shortages in New England this summer. Those scenarios are based on above average levels of heat and humidity that have a one-in-ten chance of happening. A report the North American Electric Reliability Council released on Wednesday identifies New England as one of five regional electric grids where demand for electricity is likely to exceed available supply if temperatures are higher than normal.

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Non-Residential Customers Face Shutoffs for Unpaid Gas and Electric Bills Starting June 15

Gas and electric utilities will be allowed to disconnect non-residential customers with unpaid bills starting June 15, state regulators announced on Thursday. “While there was never an ideal time for this to occur, this is an important transition as we return to our new normal,” Public Utilities Regulatory Authority Chair Marissa Gillett said in a written statement.  Utilities have been barred from disconnecting customers over unpaid bills since March 12, 2020, an early response to the economic toll of government-ordered pandemic protections. PURA is still evaluating whether customer notices are sufficient for most utilities to start shutting off residential customers

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Connecticut Residential Customers Should See Lower Rates Starting in July

Residential customers of either of the state’s two major electric utilities will see their monthly electric rates decrease this July. Starting July 1, Eversource customers rates will decrease by about 4 percent, and United Illuminating customers’ rates will decrease by about 6 percent. That amounts to about $9.50 for the “typical” residential Eversource customer using 700 kWh of electricity each month, and about $9 for the typical United Illuminating residential customer, according to the Public Utility Regulatory Authority. Because electric customers tend to use more electricity in the hot summer months, however, the actual amount of the bill may still

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Local Startup Aims to Expand Offshore Wind Business into New Jersey, Maryland

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NEW LONDON — Sea Services North America has begun hiring fishermen to provide marine services and safe navigation for offshore wind projects, including the joint ventures of Ørsted and Eversource in the Northeast.  “Our mission is to increase fishermen safety, provide opportunity to the fishermen, while supplying scouts and safety vessels to offshore developers,” said Gordon Videll, chief executive officer and co-founder of Sea Services North America, based in Waterford.  The company’s collaboration with Ørsted and Eversource brings together fishermen from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York to provide monitoring services and support vessels during the construction of offshore

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Regulators Ink Amnesty Deal Returning $9.4 Million to Third-Party Electric Customers

Twenty-two third-party electric suppliers admitting to charging customers higher than expected rates have agreed to return a total of $9.4 million to those customers. State utility regulators at PURA offered amnesty to civil penalties to any supplier that voluntarily admitted that it charged customers higher rates than it told them it would in the “Next Cycle Rate” section on their bills. In each case, the supplier caused the issue by failing to provide utilities with the right information, sometimes for months or years, according to PURA. Twenty-two suppliers agreed to “amnesty agreements” that require them to return the $9.4 million

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For About a Third of Households, Paying the Electric Bill is a Struggle

When Mercia Ordine lost her job last March, she quickly fell behind on the $200-a-month electric bills in her 600-square-foot, two-bedroom Fairfield apartment. Ordine is far from alone.  Electricity was expensive in Connecticut before the pandemic, and the poorest residents have always struggled to pay their bills. But the pandemic has caused a wider range of people to struggle with electric bills, said Brenda Watson, executive director of Operation Fuel. The assistance program was created during the energy crisis of 1977 as a way to help low-income families who fell through the cracks of government assistance programs. It’s funded primarily

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As Vineyard Wind Gets Go Ahead, Long-Term Costs for Consumers Remain Cloudy

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With federal approval of an 84-turbine, 800 megawatt wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts on Tuesday, the path is now clear for a number of outsized wind projects planned off the coast of the northeastern United States. Vineyard Wind, located in the Atlantic Ocean south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, will be the first utility-scale offshore wind project in the U.S., following a much smaller 30 MW Block Island wind project off of Rhode Island and a 12 MW pilot project for Dominion Energy off the coast of Virginia. The $2 billion Vineyard Wind project will provide Massachusetts with

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Eversource Facing $30 Million Fine for Storm Efforts, and UI $2.1 Million

Eversource and United Illuminating were warned today that each could pay millions of dollars in fines for what regulators say are failures to respond appropriately to Tropical Storm Isaias last August. On Thursday, both companies were issued notices of violations for what regulators at PURA say are failures to comply with performance standards and accident reporting requirements set by state law.  Eversource faces fines totaling $30 million and United Illuminating faces fines of $2.1 million. The authorities can request a hearing to dispute PURA’s findings.  The fines can be implemented in multiple ways, including as a customer bill credit, according

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Middletown Council Tables Effort to Withdraw From Power Plant Agreement

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MIDDLETOWN – Despite council members’ objections to plans to build a new natural gas-fired turbine at a Middletown power plant, efforts to end a tax agreement with the plant’s owner have been put temporarily on hold. Mayor Ben Florsheim said during the Common Council meeting Monday night that Princeton, New Jersey-based NRG is open to pursuing a “mutual withdrawal or termination” from a tax stabilization agreement for the company’s power plant on the Connecticut River in south Middletown, which the council approved in 2019. The council voted to table the motion to end the agreement, and to take the measure

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Regulators Condemn Eversource and UI Storm Response, Cut Fixed Rates of Return

In uncharacteristically strong language, state utility regulators condemned Eversource and United Illuminating and ordered changes and financial penalties for their responses to Tropical Storm Isaias last August. The board of PURA — the state’s regulator of utilities — on Wednesday unanimously affirmed the findings of the authority’s investigation into the utilities’ responses to the damaging storm that left hundreds of thousands of people without power, some for over a week, last summer. The authority found that Eversource failed to sufficiently prepare to respond to the storm, in particular failing to secure enough outside help in the early days of the

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Officials Warn UI Settlement Would Delay ‘Take Back Our Grid’ Reforms

Gov. Ned Lamont and Attorney General William Tong announced a settlement agreement six weeks ago that they said would give needed relief to customers of United Illuminating by returning money the company has been over-collecting since the federal corporate tax rate was reduced from 35 to 21 percent in 2017. On Monday, the merits of that settlement were sharply questioned by state regulators, who warned that the deal could lock customers into a higher rate for the next two years than might be necessary without the settlement, and could frustrate performance-based reforms the state legislature ordered last year. In the

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As State Pier Costs Come in High of Estimates, Lawmakers ask ‘How High?’

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The Connecticut State Bond Commission approved an additional $55 million for the New London State Pier redevelopment project on Friday – which officials said is now estimated to cost a total of $235.5 million. The costs for controversial plans to redevelop the State Pier into a staging ground for planned offshore wind projects – touted by state officials but facing local opposition, particularly from businesses that use the pier – were originally pegged at $93 million.  The price was later estimated to be about $157 million, before Gov. Ned Lamont told The Day editorial board in January that the costs

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Costs and Benefits Debated as Connecticut Moves Toward Carbon Caps for Gas and Diesel

The Transportation and Climate Initiative will almost certainly cost owners of gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles more at the pump if lawmakers sign onto the multistate agreement. The program will require fuel suppliers to purchase emissions allowances for the fuels they sell in participating states. The Office of the Governor estimates that the program will generate annual revenues of up to $89 million by 2023, and as much as $117 million by 2032.” How much TCI will cost consumers — and whether those costs are outweighed by the benefits of the program —  is a matter of debate.  Each year under

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