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January 30, 2024

CT sues United Illuminating over delayed cleanup of power plant

MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG English Station has been inactive since 1992 and subject of a fight over an environmental cleanup since 2015.

Connecticut filed a lawsuit Monday accusing the United Illuminating Company of failing to deliver on the deal struck in September 2015 to remediate pollution at English Station, a long-closed power station sitting empty on a manmade island in the Mill River in New Haven.

The suit by the office of Attorney General William Tong is an escalation in a battle to enforce a condition of the state’s approval of the merger of UI and Iberdrola USA that produced Avangrid, a publicly traded company that owns eight electric and natural gas utilities in New York and New England.

“As a condition of that merger, they agreed to take care of English Station. They agreed to remediate this site and to take all steps necessary, basically, to do whatever it takes to make this place safe,” Tong said. “And they haven’t done that. They haven’t done that. They’ve been dragging their feet.”

Tong’s office and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection also convinced the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority last year include a $1.86 million annual penalty stemming from the incomplete remediation in a decision cutting UI’s requested rate increase.

UI, which is fighting the rate decision in an administrative appeal to Superior Court, offered a limited response Monday to the lawsuit or statements made by Tong, Commissioner Katie Dykes of DEEP, Senate President Pro Term Martin M. Looney and Mayor Justin Elicker at a press conference outside the gate at English Station.

“We are reviewing the multiple inaccuracies made during today’s press conference regarding English Station and will respond in due course,” said Sarah Wall Fliotsos, the manager of communications for Avangrid.

An Avangrid employee challenged Tong at the press conference, asking when he last negotiated with UI and whether the company was invited to the press conference. “I just feel like this is very one-sided,” said the woman, who left without identifying herself before the press conference ended.

Fliotsos confirmed the woman was a UI employee but did not identify her by name or role. Fliotsos said, “UI regularly attends and participates in public events that discuss our business.”

Tong said UI agreed to spend at least $30 million on remediation at the power plant that ceased operations in 1992 and sits empty on a nine-acre site that is now owned by two limited liability companies. But Dykes said the liability for cleaning up PCBs and other pollutants remained with UI.

“UI is obligated to complete this cleanup no matter the cost, and they must spend $30 million before seeking any recovery of these costs” from ratepayers, Dykes said. “Since 2016, UI has spent less than $20 million on its cleanup of English station.”

Tong said the the company has not met its responsibility to produce progress reports on the remediation. A partial-consent order set a long-passed deadline for completion, Dykes said.

“It required cleanup to be completed in three years, so you do the math. It’s now 2024, and the cleanup is still not complete,” Dykes said. “So we had a lot of meetings, a lot of discussions. But regretfully, those discussions have not brought us any closer to UI accepting their responsibilities under this consent order.”

Elicker said UI, which distributes electricity to New Haven and 16 other communities in Connecticut, has been unresponsive to city hall.

“There is unbelievable frustration with UI about their unwillingness to move on this site,” Elicker said. “I have engaged many times with their leadership as has our team over probably about three years now.”

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