by Christian Wade
Connecticut’s consumer advocates are pushing back against natural gas rate increases sought by one of the state’s largest utilities, which comes as the company fights state regulators’ rejection of an electric rate hike in court.
In filings to the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, Southern Connecticut Natural Gas and Connecticut Natural Gas request approval to increase their average gas distribution rates by 5-9% during the winter season.
Both companies, owned by United Illuminating, expect to raise an additional $21 million to $42 million in revenue from the higher rates for gas customers.
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said his consumer protection division will be “thoroughly scrutinizing” the requests by the companies and will be “actively engaged at every single step of this process to ensure that Connecticut ratepayers don’t pay a penny more than they need to.”
“Connecticut families pay far too much already for basic, necessary utilities, and these increases are just one more added expense,” Tong (pictured above), a Democrat, said in a statement.
In a statement, United Illuminating defended the proposed gas rate increases and pointed out that both gas providers last raised their rates several years ago.
“These rate increases will go directly towards investments in our natural gas infrastructure that are essential to our commitment to ensure safe and reliable service, today and into the future,” United Illuminating spokesman Craig Gilvarg said in a statement to local media.
Gilvarg said the increase will also “fund new headcount for our union workforce as we look to expand our gas operations and customer call centers to better serve customer needs.”
The proposed rate increases come two months after state utility regulators rejected United Illuminating’s request to increase electric rates by nearly $131 million over the next three years. The company has filed a lawsuit against PURA seeking to overturn the decision, the outcome of which is still pending in court.
Connecticut has some of the highest energy costs in the nation, and consumer protection advocates are pressuring regulators to reduce gas, electricity and water charges.
United Illuminating, which serves about 335,000 electric customers in the state, argued it hadn’t raised rates since 2016 and needs the estimated $130 million to upgrade its regional distribution system.
Two weeks ago, S&P Global Ratings lowered the outlook for United Illuminating and Connecticut Natural Gas to “negative” and warned that they could downgrade the companies in the next year.
The rating agency cited Connecticut’s regulators’ rejection of UI’s electric and water rate hikes, saying the regulatory system has become “less supportive for credit quality.”
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