Democratic View: Eversource puts profits over preparedness

State Senator Will Haskell

State Senator Will Haskell

Contributed photo

It is no longer news that last week’s tropical storm caused unbelievable, long-term power outages here. Eversource’s failure to adequately respond to the storm and restore electricity was bad enough, but it came right on the heels of significant rate hikes — hikes that would supposedly help pay for investments in a modern and secure delivery system.

So, how did we get here? The answer is a picture-perfect example of monopoly and profiteering run amok. Let’s start from the beginning:

Eversource is a publicly traded, Fortune 500 company. In Ridgefield, it acts as a public utility with a monopoly — so, everyone has exactly one choice of whom to pay for electricity. No competition means that government regulators better keep a close eye on things, because Eversource has no market incentive to do what’s necessary.

And here’s the thing: Connecticut has kept a close eye on Eversource. After three major storms in 2011, an investigative panel of state legislators found a “need for improved worst-case planning and staffing” in response to major storms. In 2015, Eversource came to the state and requested rate increases. State regulators agreed to approve the increases, but only if Eversource invested the revenue into two things: “hardening” the electricity grid to make it more sustainable in major storms and improving staffing and infrastructure necessary to quickly restore power after widespread outages.

Fast forward: Eversource’s stock valuation has nearly tripled from 2011 to 2020, the company pulled down nearly $1 billion in net profits last year, CEO Jim Judge made $11 million in 2019 alone — and Eversource’s performance in a major storm is... worse than ever.

It turns out that Eversource just jacked up our electricity bills, promised to spend the money on storm preparedness, and then did… basically nothing. No noticeable change in how they manage staff during major outages. No significant investment in hardening the electric grid. No improvement in how the company handles customer relations and communications during a crisis.

We live in New England. Storms happen, and we shouldn’t blame Eversource for the weather. But a company that makes billions in profits off of serving our community should be prepared for a problem that announces itself 5 days in advance in the southern Caribbean. Simply put, other utility companies don’t have these problems. In fact, municipalities like Ridgefield were able to respond to downed branches and trees faster than Eversource last week — only to be left waiting days for Eversource crews to arrive and clean up downed wires.

It’s time to hold Eversource accountable through increased oversight and regulation. Eversource should be required to dedicate a staff member to work directly with each town’s Emergency Operations Center. Before storms arrive, “Make Safe” crews should be deployed to areas that will be impacted.

And customer relations officials should be in regular communication with those who are experiencing outages. This won’t be the last major storm, and if I’m re-elected to the State Senate I promise to work to make sure our community is better prepared.