Operation Fuel Supports S.B. 384, An Act Concerning The Low-Income Energy Advisory Board


Testimony from Interim Chief Executive Officer and Chief Advancement Officer, Roxanna Booth – March 14, 2024

Operation Fuel supports the language changes made in S.B. 384, An Act Concerning The Low-Income Energy Advisory Board. Section 1 of the bill changes the name to the Low-Income Energy and Water Advisory Board and allows the board to advise and assist OPM, DSS and DEEP in the planning, development, implementation and coordination of water-assistance related programs and policies. It also allows the board to make recommendations to the General Assembly regarding availability and implementation of heating and water assistance programs that benefit LMI households.

Operation Fuel sees firsthand how water costs are becoming unaffordable for Connecticut rate payers. Starting in 2018, we developed partnerships with MDC and Connecticut Water, providing shareholder and water ratepayer funds to assist struggling customers. In 2020, we welcomed Aquarion Water Company to our water partnerships. We are grateful to the companies for their support and hope to continue expanding our water assistance programs. Building on Operation Fuel’s client experience, we added water to our affordability study in 2023, for the first time.

Water bills are increasing at a faster rate than other utility bills and water costs have outpaced inflation for the past two decades. The EPA uses a drinking water affordability threshold- the reasonable level of spending- of 2% of household income. Based on the data collected in our study, 37 Connecticut census tracts- home to 47,000 households had water burdens that exceeded the 2% affordability threshold.

Main areas of burden are in Hartford (Blue Hills, Northeast, Clay Arsenal, South Green) and New Haven (City Point, Quinnipiac Meadows). However, the estimated burden uses median income level. As a result, there may be more tracts that have an affordability burden than indicated in our study.

As water rates continue to increase at 5% annually, it is estimated that the number of Connecticut census tracts that would face unaffordable average water burdens would increase to nearly 50 tracts by 2025.

Research into water affordability across the United States reveals “the painful impact of America’s expanding water poverty crisis as aging infrastructure, environmental clean-ups, changing demographics and the climate emergency fuel exponential price hikes in almost every corner of the US.” Along with that, the diluting federal aid, leaves utility more dependent on revenue from customers.

Furthermore, there was no comprehensive source of water spending or rates in Connecticut. Our study only had data for 81 of Connecticut’s 169 towns. Residents of towns not captured in the analysis may rely on private wells or small providers and be subject to variable costs with little access to assistance. Well water systems can have contamination challenges and maintenance costs- driving up cost for a household.

Our analysis was conducted using the Water Affordability Dashboard4 , a tool created by Duke University that provides estimates of water spending and affordability for 58 utilities across 81 municipalities in Connecticut. Meetings were conducted with the Department of Health and local water companies to access available affordability data. Given the lack of comprehensive data, by adopting S.B. 384, members of the board can research and discuss water affordability in the state, that can help LMI households and other ratepayers with the amount of relief needed.

We have one minor technical amendment to the bill that is not in current language, but that we have shared with the board without objection. We want to clarify that Operation Fuel is led by a CEO, not an Executive Director. [Lines 7-8]

Operation Fuel would like to sincerely thank all our collaborative partners on the Low[1]Income Energy Advisory Board. And a special thanks for Consumer Counsel Claire Coleman for chairing this board and helping LMI residents.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit written testimony, for your leadership and your collaboration. We are glad to work with the committee on this and any other issue before you.