Senator Needleman leads Senate Approval of Legislation Studying Viability of Separating PURA, DEEP

Today, State Senator Norm Needleman (D-Essex) led the Senate in its debate and approval of legislation enacting a study examining the separation and decoupling of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Such an action would benefit the state by allowing PURA to operate without direct DEEP approval; by law, PURA is within DEEP, and many PURA actions require DEEP approval, creating roadblocks and delays in important activity.

"This study will seek to improve efficiency in our state departments, specifically ensuring that PURA's work in regulating state utilities will not be limited or delayed by its need to operate under DEEP," said Sen. Needleman. "This doesn't just offer opportunities to advance and enhance our state's operations, but could further achieve better electricity rates for consumers over time if PURA is given autonomy outside of DEEP, allowing for more independence in decision-making. I'm encouraged by the long-term possibilities of this study."

Senate Bill 855, "An Act Concerning The Decoupling Of The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority And The Department Of Energy And Environmental Protection," would require the state Office of Policy and Management to study DEEP and PURA, determining how they could potentially be decoupled. Currently, PURA is considered within DEEP by law. The PURA chairperson needs DEEP approval to conduct certain business such as planning and organizing; the DEEP commissioner further is made a party in every PURA proceeding and can participate at their discretion.

In 2011, PURA was moved into DEEP, which critics have said removed independent decision-making from the regulatory authority. Connecticut's high utility rates and continued episodes of inadequate utility response in recent years, most recently the days-long outages caused by Tropical Storm Isaias in August 2020, have further added to that criticism; the majority of public testimony submitted regarding Senate Bill 855 recommended the decoupling of these two bodies to ensure greater autonomy and independence in certain utility regulatory decisions. The AARP of Connecticut testified that PURA adjudicating energy and utility issues when DEEP is a party to every proceeding represents an "insurmountable conflict of interest."