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Connecticut regulators authorize Eversource, UI to resume electricity and gas shut-offs that were halted during the pandemic. But not until May.


Connecticut regulators Wednesday authorized Eversource Energy and United Illuminating to shut off electricity and gas to customers with financial or medical hardships, ending a ban dating to the start of the pandemic more than two years ago.

Thousands of utility customers with past due bills got something of a reprieve: The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority said the two utilities may not shut off gas and electricity until May 2, 2023, eight months after the utilities sought to resume the practice.

The decision affects United Illuminating and its affiliates, Southern Connecticut Gas Co. and Connecticut Natural Gas Corp. and Eversource, and its affiliate, Yankee Gas.

Past due amounts for hardship customers at Eversource have increased 38%, or $47 million since the beginning of the pandemic, the utility told regulators. The growing bad debt will increase costs paid by all customers, including residential hardship customers, it said.

More than 16,000 customers of Eversource’s electricity subsidiary, Connecticut Light & Power, could face shut-off and Eversource’s gas business, Yankee Gas, could disconnect service to about 6,500 customers, Eversource said. The average amount in arrears is about $2,300 for customers of both companies.

At UI, more than 2,000 customers with an average of $1,828 in arrears would be affected, the utility and two gas company subsidiaries told regulators. Flexible payment arrangements will be available.

The Center for Children’s Advocacy and Connecticut Legal Rights Project Inc. objected to Eversource’s proposal. The groups told PURA that the utility automatically enrolled customers with hardships into payment programs that are unfamiliar and unaffordable.

They said customers also are deprived of the opportunity to choose a billing program best suited to them.

Eversource last year began a program it calls New Start. With each on-time monthly payment, the utility will eliminate one-twelfth of the enrollment balance, or up to $20,000 annually.

Spokeswoman Tricia Modifica said Eversource understands “there is never a good time to resume service disconnections.”

Payment plans with the lowest monthly payment amounts are available and customers participating in a payment program are protected from service disconnection for nonpayment, she said.

UI and its two gas company affiliates said they understand that some customers face financial hardships “and will exhaust all options” to help them pay unpaid balances.

The companies reach out by phone, letters, bill inserts and emails to ensure customers are aware of financial assistance plans, the companies said.

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“Despite these efforts, some customers continued to accumulate unpaid balances, and without a payment plan or special relief, we are required to disconnect following PURA’s rules,” they said.

In delaying the shut-off at the time sought by the utilities, PURA said Eversource and UI proposed to resume their service termination less than two months before the start of a winter moratorium beginning Nov. 1.

Regulators called the timeline proposed by the utilities “illogical as it does not provide adequate time to inform affected customers of the end of the moratorium on service disconnections” while ensuring that customers are enrolled in payment plans to avoid a service shut-off.

Eversource resumed shut offs for business customers Aug. 1, 2020, and non-hardship residential customers Oct, 1, 2020. It told PURA it proposes to resume terminating service for hardship customers Sept. 6.

Ending the shut-off moratoriums will trigger credit and collection processes to obtain payment of overdue balances, Eversource told PURA.

Increased costs for bad debt are paid by ratepayers and “can cause additional rate pressure for all Eversource customers, including residential hardship customers,” the utility said. “The last thing the company wants to do is disconnect service from customers for non-payment.”

Stephen Singer can be reached at ssinger@courant.com.



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