As I was leaving the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) offices in Warwick yesterday, I saw National Grid employees unloading the boxes and boxes of files that Grid is presenting to make the case that they deserve a 15 percent rate increase. Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (DPUC) Administrator Macky McCleary was quick to cry foul on Grid’s request:

“We challenged National Grid to produce a plan for its business that preserves safety, reliability and increases value for all ratepayers,” said McCleary in a statement. “What we received today appears to be a proposal that continues business as usual and presumes the willingness of Rhode Islanders to bear an ever- increasing burden of higher costs. It’s time to get off this train.”

“We know that any rate increases are tough for customers, but we’ve really worked hard to manage costs over the past five or six years,” said Tim Horan, president of National Grid in Rhode Island as quoted in the Providence Journal.

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo was also quick to condemn Grid’s request. “Just a month ago, tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders lost power and it took National Grid nearly a week to get the lights back on,” said Raimondo. “Now, they are asking the state to approve a 15 percent rate increase. Rhode Island families and small business owners – especially manufacturing businesses – are already challenged by high energy costs. The Public Utility Commission needs to open up National Grid’s books and stand up for Rhode Island ratepayers.”

United States Representative David Cicilline (Democrat, RI-01) took a rare stand on a statewide issue, saying, “Rhode Island’s working families are already getting crushed by high costs from their pharmacy to their cable bill. Now, National Grid is proposing a 15 percent hike in the rates Rhode Islanders pay for electricity and gas.

“This is unacceptable. The Public Utilities Commission needs to take a hard look at this proposal and do the right thing for Rhode Island families.”

State Representative Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 4, Providence), who is running for Lieutenant Governor, is “organizing a petition urging the PUC to reject this proposal and instead implement the recommendations in the recent Power Sector Transformation report that can reduce ratepayer costs.”

Regunberg also renewed his commitment to pursing publicly owned power utility legislation. “Public power utilities provide great results in states like Nebraska, cities like Los Angeles, San Antonio, Seattle, and Austin, and towns right here in Rhode Island like Pascoag. This year in the General Assembly, I will be fighting for public power utility legislation to allow communities to take control of their electric utility and transfer authority from National Grid to local governing boards that are directly accountable to the communities they serve.”

A growing coalition of groups such as the George Wiley Center, the Rhode Island Democratic Socialists and the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats of America are pushing for a publicly owned power Grid. Here’s a website devoted to the Providence DSA’s efforts:

DPUC administrator McCleary is committing to fighting National Grid on this proposal. “Over the next nine months the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers will examine every aspect of National Grid’s proposed rate increase,” said McCleary. “We will consult with stakeholders and the public to hear their priorities. And we will submit a counter-proposal to the Public Utilities Commission for how our utility can provide the best service for the minimum cost to ratepayers. Our work will be guided by the principle that Rhode Islanders should pay for performance and not the status quo.”

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Barry Schiller

always thought the company should be called “non-national grid” as they are foreign owned. When the gas division was locally owned, its head started Grow Smart RI to promote development in built up areas and curb sprawl. Now they closed their downtown office, you cannot even pay a utility bill downtown! That said, politicians always jump on regulated utility rate increases as it plays well but there is a danger that inadequate revenue to please the electorate can lead to inadequate maintenance of the grid with less reliability and less ability to respond to storms. We’ve seen something similar with the public desire to keep gas taxes down leading to deficient roads and bridges. I think one solution is to keep rates low for the first minimum amount of electricity people need (lifeline rates) while allowing higher rates on use beyond that point to protect low income people and to… Read more »