It’s time to ditch Eversource

Illustration by Kaitlyn Tran/The Daily Campus

The University of Connecticut faces a cocktail of crises as $160 million in budget cuts by the state government threaten the university’s ambitions to reach carbon neutrality by 2030 and curb its ability to remain prepared during the ongoing and neglected COVID-19 pandemic, according to reporting by The Daily Campus. The Daily Campus Editorial Board will address these dramatic cuts in more detail in the future; nonetheless, they should draw the attention of UConn administrators and community members to another crucial expense that stymies both our fiscal and environmental sustainability efforts: energy.  

Energy costs in Connecticut are remarkably high compared to the rest of the country, with reports estimating that the state pays the second highest in electricity bills in the nation. Connecticut is dominated by two energy distributors: Eversource Energy and United Illuminating Company. The two firms essentially maintain regional monopolies over the state’s energy utility industry. Even an economic powerhouse like UConn cannot escape from beneath the shadow of Eversource, which is the university’s main utility company according to a 2021 report from the President’s Working Group on Sustainability and the Environment.  

In fact, the university’s relationship with Eversource runs deeper than a simple utilities agreement. Dubbing it a “utility-university partnership,” UConn maintains the Eversource Energy Center out of the Innovation Partnership Building on Discovery Drive. The joint initiative by the university and its power company aims to solve “ real-world challenges for electric customers where weather, climate and energy intersect,” according to the EEC website, and is slated to last until 2028 on account of a $14 million research investment by the company. The hefty investments by Eversource lock UConn into a dangerous position, whereby it is wholly dependent on one private firm to connect it to the state’s energy grid and thus subject to that company’s pricing. A fairly recent premonition of this concern were the winter rate hikes by both Eversource and United Illuminating Co., when the companies more than doubled the cost per kilowatt hour of electricity. 

UConn’s stated commitments to eliminating carbon emissions at the university by 2040 would require the shutdown of the Central Utility Plant, which uses natural gas through a cogeneration facility to account for a significant amount of UConn’s energy needs — this is an important and essential goal for ensuring that UConn is making even a superficial contribution to mitigating the climate crisis. As things now stand, however, decommissioning the CUP would render UConn completely vulnerable to future Eversource rate hikes and other predatory, oligopolistic practices. Discussing a full transition to renewable energy, the President’s Working Group report additionally projects “higher operating costs… due primarily to higher purchases of electricity from Eversource.”  

An urgent need to decarbonize paired with imminent attacks on UConn’s finances and an increasingly demanding energy supplier spells grave news for sustainability efforts. The solution, though, is not to abandon UConn’s environmental commitments; rather, state and university officials must cooperate to find innovative alternatives to Eversource’s grip over UConn and Connecticut energy as a whole. Whether it’s pursuing fiscal and regulatory policy to reduce energy prices, or legal avenues to break it up or acquire it as a public utility, it’s time to ditch Eversource. Fortunately, there is political capital available to encourage legislators who are hesitant to stand up to the energy industry. In 2020, after the toll taken by Tropical Storm Isaias, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal D-Conn called for a breakup of the company by regulators, citing the state’s ability to reverse the company’s past mergers and acquisitions, effectively dismantling it. Even Gov. Ned Lamont, who is proposing the drastic budget cuts to UConn, has expressed that there is a strong “disconnect” between the company’s performance and its cost to the state. 

Both UConn and state officials share an interest in dislodging Eversource from its dominance in Connecticut and building a viable alternative to supply UConn with renewable energy. As UConn President Radenka Maric and other administrators prepare to launch a dialogue with lawmakers about funding UConn, they should keep in mind the incentives both groups have to dismantle Connecticut’s energy oligopoly. 

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