The only thing higher than residents’ tensions last night may have been their utility bills.
United Illuminating Company is currently seeking approval from the Department of Public Utility Control to increase energy rates across the state.
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The move has angered residents, including many in New Haven, and drove 40 to host a “Fight the Hike” rally outside the UI headquarters near City Hall on Monday evening. The rally preceded a packed DPUC public hearing in the Hall of Records Building, where scores of residents and officials — including Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 — lambasted the hike and urged DPUC vice chairman John Betkoski, who moderated the meeting, to reject the UI proposal.
UI officials claim that because of a decline in electricity sales and faltering economic times, the company requires a boost in profits in order to cover an increase in customer defaults and capital expenditure projects.
“The requested increase will enable UI to continue to meet these public service obligations,” UI President Anthony Vallillo wrote in an Oct. 6 letter to customers.
But a crowd of residents rejected UI’s concerns, citing the same terrible economic times and their inability to pay ever-increasing bills.
At the “Fight the Hike” rally, which was organized by residents Frank and Paula Panzarella, participants marched around the headquarters, ending at the Hall of Records building.
At the meeting, James Torgerson, the chief executive of UIL Holdings Corp., the parent company of UI, said he empathized with the residents but that much of the rate increase was out of the company’s control.
“More than half of your bill is from energy we have to buy and pass along to you,” he said.
In response to residents’ concerns, Vallillo indicated that the company’s cut of incoming revenue has stayed relatively constant over the years despite price increases. In 2000, six cents of each 10-cent kilowatt-hour of energy went to UI; now, the middle-man company makes eight cents of the 22-cent rate, he noted on a chart.
But government officials at the hearing had little sympathy for UI.
“Times are tough for everybody,” State Sen. Gayle Slossberg of Milford said. “We don’t have the possibility to go to somebody and say ‘Hey, I’m not making ends meet. Can I get a little more?’ ”
Blumenthal added that his office will “fight to stop any penny of any rate increase.” His brief speech in support of the residents landed booming applause; three residents stood up in ovation.
UI spokesman Edward Crowder said after the meeting that he disagreed with the state officials’ characterization of the company. “The little guy is getting hit, and the big guy is getting hit, too,” he said by phone.
Several New Haven aldermen and residents who spoke at the meeting said they are already pushed to the limit.
“Four years ago, there was a 50 percent rate increase,” resident Wendy Hamilton said. “I’m a nurse — I’m a little guy surrounded by other little guys in this town.”
Ward 6 Alderwoman Dolores Colón added that she hopes the DPUC will not allow the rate increase, considering that the board already approved one as recently as 2006.
Because affected customers did not receive notice of the meeting one week in advance, as is legally required, a second meeting has been scheduled for Dec. 10 in Bridgeport. Blumenthal predicted what he called an “overflowing crowd” for the meeting.