HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Energy markets are defying Connecticut officials who have made driving down electricity prices a top priority.
State regulators announced on Friday their approval of an 8 percent increase in electric generation rates for about 62 percent of Connecticut Light & Power residential customers who do not get their electricity from competing suppliers. The increase by the state's largest utility boosts the average residential bill by $5.29 a month. The increase will take effect on July 1.
Spokesman Mitch Gross said the Northeast Utilities subsidiary is passing along increased prices charged by suppliers. "It's creeping up a little," he said.
Sen. Bob Duff, co-chairman of the Legislature's Energy and Technology Committee, said rising natural gas prices used by power plants and pipeline bottlenecks are partly to blame.
"An extremely cold winter exacerbated the problem," he said.
ISO-New England, the region's power grid operator, said in March that a lack of pipelines into New England is making natural gas costlier and blamed it for pushing up wholesale electricity prices in the region by 55 percent last year.
The region's six governors are looking for proposals for 1,200 to 3,600 megawatts of transmission capacity that could carry wind and hydroelectric power from Maine and Canada. They want to ensure that New England has a reliable supply of natural gas to avoid the kind of price spikes that occurred this past winter.
Duff advises hard-pressed consumers to be patient.
"All those things are getting done, but it takes time to get done," he said.
Since Gov. Dannel P. Malloy took office in January 2011, he and fellow Democrats who control the Legislature enacted several pieces of legislation intended to put pressure on electricity prices. Elected officials were responding to complaints from businesses and consumer advocates that utility deregulation in 1999 led to higher prices.
The state hired a procurement manager who works with utilities to buy electricity, encourages greater use of Canadian hydropower and centralized energy and environmental policy in one agency.
But two destructive storms in 2011 and 2012 helped drive up utilities' capital costs. CL&P earlier this month asked regulators for permission to raise the cost of delivering electricity by 5.9 percent to replace new equipment and improve reliable delivery of electricity. An average residential bill would rise by about $6.76 a month.
If a rate increase is approved by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, it will take effect Dec. 1. In its 2012 agreement with Connecticut allowing it to buy Boston's NStar, Northeast Utilities agreed to freeze some rates until Dec. 1.
CL&P, which serves 1.2 million customers, was roundly criticized by elected officials and regulators for its response to two destructive storms in 2011 and 2012. Utility President Bill Herdegen said new and stronger poles, wires, transformers and substation upgrades improved reliability to its best performance last year since 2000.