Lawsuit accuses New England utilities of driving up natural gas prices

natural gas august 4 elp

BOSTON (AP) — A class-action lawsuit has accused two utilities of conspiring to drive up energy costs in New England in a multi-year scheme that affected millions of customers.

The lawsuit filed this week in Boston federal court alleges Eversource Energy and Avangrid Inc. used their market power to "unlawfully jack up" consumer electric bills, according to a statement from attorney Tom Sobol, of the law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP. Court records show 12 people are listed as plaintiffs.

The suit seeks $3.6 billion in damages— the amount it claims customers were overcharged. It accuses the utilities of manipulating the amount of natural gas available to power plants by reserving more than they needed from 2013 to 2016. The scheme raised electric prices by at least 20 percent for New England residents, affecting 7.1 million electricity customers.

"Not since Enron's greedy heyday during the California energy crisis, nearly two decades ago, have American energy markets been manipulated for private profit at such expense to everyday electricity consumers," the suit says.

Eversource, headquartered in Boston and Hartford, and New Haven-based Avangrid own multiple electric utility subsidiaries throughout New England.

The two companies are being investigated by the Connecticut Office of Consumer Counsel and the state's public utilities authority on charges of market manipulation.

Eversource has denied any wrongdoing. A spokesman for Avangrid said the company "will vigorously defend against these claims."

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