Rate Increase Public Hearing

People listen during the public hearing on CL&P's proposed rate hike amendments before the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Public Utilities Regulatory Authority Wednesday night. (Jeff Langan / FOX CT / August 27, 2014)

NEW BRITAIN — One after the other people took to the microphone Wednesday night to express their opposition to the rate increase proposed by Connecticut Light & Power.

Challenges to the proposal were nearly universal at the New Britain offices of the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, where all three commissioners sat for more than an hour listening to public comments, the first of three nights they will be doing so in the next six weeks

Nancy Thomas, a Newington resident, said it feels like CL&P is after "every last nickel they can find in our wallets."

One common story echoed throughout the meeting. Residents, many older and on fixed incomes, said they have cut back in recent years to make ends meet. One woman from New Britain said she no longer turns on her outside floodlights, she sits in the dark while watching TV and she uses flashlights around the house. Another said she saves money by turning off her furnace some days during the winter, has cut her landline telephone and no longer uses fans or air conditioning during the summer.

Much of the opposition from the crowded hearing room of about 100 focused on how CL&P is requesting a 60 percent increase in its fixed fee, which is paid by customers every month regardless of how much energy is used.

To many, including Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, such a change sends mixed signals, especially in a state that has done so much to promote energy efficiency and renewable power.

Desiree Bartholomew, a West Hartford resident, made note of how utilities are generally able to raise rates to cover any costs that they have incurred.

"The company is within its rights to raise prices," she said. "But the increases our untenable."

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who held a press conference on the rate increase on Tuesday, said: "The reason for the outpouring of opposition is this state can't afford it."

Yolanta Zaba of New Britain put it this way: "With the highest rate in the United States, they still have the balls to ask for another increase."

Mitch Gross, one of two CL&P spokes people who attended the public hearing, said he recognized the public's right to speak out about the increase as part of the overall process that accompanies any rate case.

A number of linemen who work for CL&P testified that the changes they have seen at the utility over the past two years have not been good. Layoffs, work moves and changes to how late-night problems are responded to give them pause, they said, and should be considered in the rate case.

At least two people spoke in favor of one aspect of the utility's proposed rate increase. That piece is the $25 million that will pay for programs such as tree trimming and replacing lines that should make the electric grid better able to handle major storms with fewer outages.

Thomas Sheridan, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, said: "If we are going to ask the company to step up to the plate and make these upgrades, we are to be fair and reasonable."

He was joined by Denise McNair, the town manager of Berlin, who supported the company's investment in tree trimming, calling it "monies well spent."