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Avangrid agrees to multimillion-dollar settlement over treatment of customers struggling with bills

Thomas Hopkins
Creative Commons

State regulators this week approved a $3 million settlement with utility network Avangrid. The agreement is over failures by the company to adequately inform financially vulnerable customers about payment protections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) said Thursday that $2.7 million of that settlement will help pay down overdue balances for at-risk customers.

Avangrid includes several Connecticut utilities, among them United Illuminating, Connecticut Natural Gas and the Southern Connecticut Gas Company.

As a result of the settlement, qualifying low-income customers who are behind on bill payments will get a one-time credit that will go into effect by June 1, 2022, at the latest.

Additionally, no customer slated to receive assistance through the agreement will have their service terminated prior to getting that one-time payment, the settlement says.

PURA officials accepted the proposed deal Thursday.

In a statement, PURA said the settlement will benefit all ratepayers by helping to rectify some uncollectible accounts whose balances otherwise would be spread across to other customers.

“While the $2.7 million directed toward at-risk customers’ back balances will provide those customers with much needed immediate relief, it also prevents those back balances from being socialized across other ratepayers and therefore provides a whole system benefit as well,” wrote PURA spokesperson Taren O’Connor in an email.

The settlement directs an additional $300,000 to be split among advocacy organizations that educate low-income customers about utility benefits and bill protection programs.

Operation Fuel, Connecticut Legal Services, and the Center for Children’s Advocacy will all receive $100,000 as a result of the settlement.

In a statement, Avangrid said “this settlement allows the Company to credit the arrearage balances of our most vulnerable customers" and provide direct financial assistance to community organizations "to support their critical mission of supporting the needs of customers.”

A spokesperson for the company said energy assistance options to customers in need are available year-round.

Corrected: May 6, 2022 at 10:44 AM EDT
A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to Operation Fuel, Connecticut Legal Services, and the Center for Children’s Advocacy as "community action agencies."
Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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