By Rich Scinto, Patch, Nov 28, 2022

Gov. Ned Lamont announced a new slew of relief measures for high electricity and home heating costs.

CONNECTICUT — Gov. Ned Lamont announced a slew of measures aimed to provide Connecticut families with some relief from high electricity and fuel prices.

The state legislature also went into special session today with plans to extend the state gas tax pause and add funds to the state’s low-income fuel assistance program.

Democratic legislative leaders said the additional funding will help Connecticut families, but also keep the state’s finances in order. Republicans on the other hand said the relief efforts don’t go far enough.

Here is what to know about Connecticut energy prices and what is being done to lower them:

How much are energy prices going up this winter?

Eversource and UI filed paperwork earlier this month that would more than double their standard service generation rates, which would mean average residential customers bills would increase by more than $80 per month.

By law, the companies secure power generation contracts and aren’t allowed to profit off of them. The New England region is heavily dependent on natural gas for power generation, and the price of the commodity has soared due to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The price of home heating oil has skyrocketed recently as well. The average home heating oil price on Nov. 21 in Connecticut was about $5.16 per gallon, according tos the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The price has come down from recent weeks, but is still about $1.90 more per gallon than the same time last year.

What are Eversource and UI doing to offer temporary relief?

Lamont’s administration worked with Eversource and United Illuminating to come up with some near-term relief for customers.

Eversource will contribute $10 million at shareholder expense to Operation Fuel, which is a non-profit organization that helps low-income customers with home heating costs, Lamont said. UI will contribute at least $3 million.

“While we don’t have the ability to control the cost of the energy generation supply, we are here to help our customers above all,” UI CEO Frank Reynolds said in a statement. “As we enter the winter months, we remain committed to coming to the table with all parties to find additional solutions for hard-working families across Connecticut.”

Eversource and UI plan to file a motion with the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to fast-track the return of long-term power contract earnings to customers starting on Jan. 1. The move will cut Eversource customer bills by about $10 a month, which is about 12.5 percent of the average increase this winter. The credit would last through April. Details for UI customers are still being worked out.

“As an energy delivery company, we can’t control the cost of electricity on the supply side of our customer bills, but it is critically important to us to uncover any and all options to provide relief for our customers,” Eversource Connecticut President Steve Sullivan said in a statement.

Eversource and UI will also seek approval to accelerate the planned low-income electricity discount rate by providing a flat-rate credit to financial hardship customers beginning in January 2023. The 2021 state Take Back Our Grid Act established a new low-income electricity rate that is scheduled to go into effect January 2024.

“I appreciate Eversource and UI working with us to identify creative near-term actions that will help provide Connecticut residents with some relief from high energy costs and the significant impending rate increase on January 1,” Lamont said in a statement.

What is the state legislature doing to lower energy costs in the special session?

State legislators will debate extending the state’s pause on the 25-cent excise tax on gasoline. Connecticut is only one of a handful of states that still has a pause on gas taxes. The proposal calls for extending the pause until Jan. 1, and then adding the tax back in five cent increments per month until it reaches the full 25 cents.

Lamont also proposed keeping public transit buses free through March 30, which is the maximum date due to federal restrictions.

The legislature will also debate adding another $30 million to the federal Low-Income Household Energy Assistance program. Funding would come from American Rescue Plan Act dollars. There is currently $98.5 million in the program.

Another proposal would direct at least 95 percent of fines issued by PURA to non-profit energy assistance programs.

What are the eligibility requirements for home heating assistance?

The Connecticut Energy Assistance program offers between $250 and $600 in assistance depending on income level to qualified households. Funds are typically paid directly to utilities or fuel providers.

Household income must fall below the following levels to qualify:

• 1: $39,761

• 2: $51,996

• 3: $64,230

• 4: $76,465

• 5: $88,699

• 6: $100,933

• 7: $103,227

• 8: $105,521

Operation Fuel opens up assistance programs on Dec. 19. Eligibility is based on household size and 75 percent of the state median income.

What is the Republican and Democratic legislative response to the initiatives?

Republican leaders in the House and Senate said the special session assistance doesn’t go far enough for Connecticut residents.

Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly called on his colleagues to extend the total gas tax holiday through the end of the fiscal year. He also said more funding is needed for home heating assistance.

“A family that may have gotten $3,000 last year is now only getting $600 or $700 this year,” he said about heating assistance. “That’s not even a full tank of oil.”

Both Kelly and House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said some assistance is better than nothing, and that they intended to support the relief measures. Still, many Connecticut families will struggle to get the needed assistance, and the state should consider measures to pipe more natural gas.

“It’s going to be like throwing bread into a duck pond the way they’ve set this up,” Candelora said.

Democratic legislative leaders said they are attempting to strike a careful balance between giving Connecticut families some relief, but also keep state finances in good order. House Majority Leader Jason Rojas pointed out that Connecticut is only one of a handful of states that still has a gas tax pause.

“There’s a level of responsibility that we have to engage in to ensure that we can continue to fund the transportation infrastructure needs that we know we have and that will continue to grow into the future,” Rojas said.

House Speaker Matt Ritter said the special session gas tax plan is based on current gas price projections, and that he would be open to changing the phase-out plan if fuel costs were to dramatically rise early next year.

Ritter also called on Congress to pass a budget that would provide additional home heating assistance.