POWELL: 'Take back our grid'? That will be the day

Published on Thursday, 12 November 2020 20:13
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By CHRIS POWELL

After the supposedly slow response by Eversource Energy and United Illuminating to the widespread electricity outages in Connecticut caused by the tropical storm in August, there were calls for state government to take over the electricity distribution business. Since that business is already a regulated monopoly, that's a perfectly reasonable idea in principle.

But for several reasons it will never happen, and one was illustrated the other day by an exchange between Eversource and the state Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA).

The company wanted the agency to formally extend the moratorium on electricity shutoffs for unpaid bills that was imposed in March when Governor Lamont ordered businesses to close because of the virus epidemic. The agency saw no need to extend the moratorium because the usual moratorium on shutoffs during the winter is taking effect anyway. Eversource seemed to want the extension mainly to emphasize state government's responsibility for payment failures and the company's revenue losses.

But ultimately the electricity bills that are unpaid during shutoff moratoriums are paid through higher charges to all other electric customers. Neither state government nor the federal government reimburses electric utilities for continuing to provide service to customers who default on their bills, even when those defaults occur because government orders put people out of work. The state and federal governments offer some money to poor people who can't pay their electric bills, but the electric companies are on their own with bad debts. The companies offer payment plans to delinquent customers, but according to Eversource's recent application to PURA, half of those plans fail.

So that's one reason state government will never take over the electricity distribution business. For then state government would have to take full responsibility for the public welfare cost of shutoff moratoriums, as well as responsibility for the cost of delivering electricity in general. Then elected officials would lose the ability to hide in electric bills the expense of public policy. They also would lose the ability to scapegoat the electric companies politically. Everything annoying about electric service, including interruption by tropical storms, would become state government's responsibility even more than it already is through regulation.

The recent electric utility legislation passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Lamont was called the "take back our grid" bill. Of course it didn't take back "our" grid at all, for the grid was built by the electric companies, and purchasing it would cost state government billions of dollars it doesn't have. The legislation mainly kept the electric companies functioning not just as distributors of electricity but also as tax collectors.

IGNORE ‘ZOOMBOMBINGS'

The recent political campaigns in Connecticut were full of nasty interruptions of campaign events held on the internet. These attacks, often called "Zoombombings" after the internet conference service, were eagerly publicized, appalling people and gaining sympathy for the candidates who were targeted.

But the perpetrators were not caught and probably never can be, and the eagerness with which the attacks were publicized raises suspicion about them. For "false flag" incidents are increasingly common across the political spectrum, and what candidate wouldn't want to be seen as the victim of something so vile and yet so trivial?

News organizations might do better to ignore these incidents, since that might eliminate them.

POLICE POLITICS

While their endorsements by police unions throughout Connecticut seem to have done little for Republican candidates for the General Assembly, election results from the state and around the country also seem to have provided little support for the recent clamor from the far left to "defund the police." Indeed, in the days just before the election, businesses in cities afflicted by such people boarded up their windows in fear of political violence.

Officials who felt obliged to play footsie with the "defund the police" crowd, like Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, may hope that it is forgotten soon. To placate the crowd the mayor arranged a million-dollar cut in the city's police budget, only to ask Governor Lamont a few weeks later for help from the state police in confronting a surge of violence in the ever-troubled city.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.



Posted in The Bristol Press, Column, Editorials on Thursday, 12 November 2020 20:13. Updated: Thursday, 12 November 2020 20:15.