Eversource Energy and United Illuminating were each fined $10,000 Friday by Connecticut regulators who say the utilities failed to identify low-income customers eligible for a state-mandated clean energy program.
The disagreement focuses on the Shared Clean Energy Facility, a program established by state law in 2018 to allow low- and moderate-income residents, municipalities, owners of small businesses and others to benefit from reduced energy costs from solar installations if they are renters or their rooftops are too shady or otherwise unsuitable for solar panels.
Shared solar is a virtual solar electricity system used by subscribers who buy into a nearby solar installation and receive a credit on their monthly utility bills. Three sites have been selected in a pilot program in Bloomfield, Shelton and Thompson.
PURA criticized July 1 filings by Eversource and UI as a “rough sketch” of potential ways to identify customers of the program and their eligibility.
“Several of the processes listed lacked any specificity or justification,” regulators said. “It took (PURA) staff the better part of a month to determine how and if the above-referenced compliance filings should or even could be used or if PURA should simply ask for stakeholders to provide their own proposed processes.”
Spokesman Mitch Gross said Eversource is evaluating whether to request a hearing.
“We strongly support Connecticut’s commitment to renewable energy and we look forward to continue working with PURA and other stakeholders on the implementation of this important program,” he said.
A spokesman said UI is “fully committed” to the program and “we will continue to work with PURA to resolve technical issues.”
“We expect to be ready to procure power under the program this year, ahead of the statutory requirement,” UI said.
The dispute is the third in recent months between the utilities and regulators. Eversource and UI face a public hearing, yet to be scheduled, over their response to Tropical Storm Isaias that left about 1 million Connecticut residents without power for days. And rate increases by Eversource will be examined by PURA in a separate public hearing scheduled for next week.
Regulators said the utilities’ filings for the clean energy program are “insufficient and short of the authority’s standards,” particularly because PURA had already issued a warning. It threatened daily fines if the documents are “not filed timely and with a good faith effort at compliance.”
The fines and rebuke by regulators of Eversource and UI are the latest criticism in a long-running debate between the utilities, solar industry, lawmakers and others over drafting rules for the program.
“We’ve been trying to get shared solar for six years while most states have had it for years,” said Michael Trahan, executive director of SolarConnecticut, an industry group. “The industry has certainly made the case. Tens of millions of dollars are parked at the border ready to invest.”
PURA directed Eversource and United Illuminating to consult groups such as the Green Bank that works with private-sector investors to finance clean-energy projects and Operation Fuel that provides emergency energy and utility help to households facing financial crisis. Working with the groups would help the utilities better understand how Census data can be used to identify customers of the program., regulators said.
Eversource and UI have until Sept. 30 to submit new filings.
Regulators said the utilities did not comply with an order to propose one or more processes that would identify and enroll customers who meet a requirement defining low-income as up to 80% of the median income in a particular area as defined by federal housing rules and adjusted for family size.
The utilities must vet all proposed processes with the solar industry, municipalities and nonprofit groups such as community action agencies.
Eversource and UI also did not submit to PURA, as required, a list of “reasonable and cost-effective measures” to ensure the clean energy program is fully subscribed, regulators said.
Stephen Singer can be reached at [email protected]
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