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National Grid’s rate case will decide the company’s future in Rhode Island



National Grid is proposing significant rate hikes for both gas and electric utility service, and the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC) will be deciding on these increases. Right now, in a series of meetings taking place across the state of Rhode Island, the public is being invited to present their opinions.

At the second public meeting, held in Pawtucket last week, the George Wiley Center and the Providence Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America made the case for PIPP (Percentage Income Payment Plan). Under PIPP, a plan Rhode Island had in place from 1986 to the mid-90’s, people pay a percentage of their income for their utility bills instead of a fixed rate. PIPP is strongly opposed by National Grid, even though it would allow Rhode Islanders in poverty or on fixed incomes to avoid falling behind on their utility payments.

Below is all the testimony from the Pawtucket meeting.

Gael Taddeo started out by talking about how difficult rate increases are for retirees and those on fixed incomes. Taddeo said that commissions like the PUC are perceived by the public as “a rubber stamp for these corporations that don’t care one iota about us. In my mind it raises the question: Who’s going to protect us from these predators?”

Will Speck, a member of the Providence Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, said that his group has “delved into National Grid’s filings” about the rate case “as well as any group of civilians could.”

“The rate increase is not one that our community want,” said Speck, “and it’s not one that many of them can afford… If National Grid doesn’t get what they want, they say that service will get worse. It seems like an old MAFIA threat…

Speck called National Grid’s proposal to help low income utility customers “a sick joke.”

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“A customer enrolled in the program would only see a reduction of three percent on their bill compared to the current program,” said Speck. “That is not going to stop one shut-off, and I dare them to tell me otherwise.”

Speck urged National Grid to institute PIPP.

“We in the DSA reject that utilities are just another commodity to be bought and sold on a market,” said Speck. “We view them as a human right and believe that every person should be entitled to continuous access to electricity and other necessary utilities.”

When National Grid talks about “incentivizing good behaviors,” said Speck, that’s “code words for teaching people how to pay their bill. No poor person has to be taught that they have to pay their bills. It’s a constant part of their life. They know, all too well, the realities of having to pay their bills…

“This type of thinking that National Grid displays is a disgusting insult to the people who are struggling on the fringes of our society who desperately need our assistance. National Grid needs to seriously rethink their relationship with the growing mass of low-income Rhode islanders.”

“PIPP,” said Chloe Chassaing, a volunteer at the George Wiley Center, “exists in other states. It exists in other states where National Grid operates.”

The absence of a plan like PIPP has allowed for what Camilo Viveiros, an organizer with the George Wiley Center, metaphorically called criminal activity.  “Millions of dollars have been stolen from poor people to subsidize billions of dollars by National Grid,” said Viveiros.

Representative Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 4, Providence) was the only elected official to speak at the meeting. “There’s a simple principle here,” said Regunberg. “And I know energy policy is complicated in so many ways. But I think the principle we’re hearing tonight is simple: If you’re returning  hundreds of millions or billions of dollars to shareholders, if you’re paying your corporate leadership team millions of dollars, you should not be asking hard working Rhode Islanders who are already struggling to get by and pay the bills to fork over more money.”

Here’s all the video:

Here’s a list of upcoming meetings:

March 1, 2018 @ 6:00 P.M.
Hope High School – Cafeteria
324 Hope Street, Providence, Rhode Island

March 8, 2018 @ 6:00 P.M.
Narragansett Town Hall – Council Chambers
25 Fifth Avenue, Narragansett, Rhode Island

March 15, 2018 @ 6:00 P.M.
Public Utilities Commission – Hearing Room A
89 Jefferson Boulevard, Warwick, Rhode Island

The hearing will continue on June 7, 2018 at 9:30 A.M. at the PUC’s office.

You can contact the George Wiley Center here:

Description of the rate filing by the PUC:

In this docket, the PUC will examine the propriety of an application by National Grid seeking approval to increase base distribution rates for its electric distribution and gas distribution operations in Rhode Island. As submitted, the Company requests approval of certain ratemaking proposals designed to recover the costs incurred to operate the electric and gas distribution systems on a safe and reliable basis for customers.

These proposals include: increased staffing, including positions for new electric and gas workers; computer system upgrades; cost recovery procedures for major storm events; a multi-year, enterprise-wide, gas-operations program that will enhance National Grid’s core gas operating capabilities necessary to support National Grid’s U.S. gas distribution business into the future; new programs and services for income-eligible customers and increased investment in current income-eligible customer offerings; and the Energy Innovation Hub located in Providence designed to expand customer education and outreach and enrich customers’ understandings of energy and the options available to them to manage their energy use.

For National Grid Electric, the proposed rates would increase the Company’s annual operating revenue by approximately $41.3 million, or 4.6 percent, with varying impacts on individual customer bills. The monthly bill impact for a typical electric residential customer using 500 kWh per month would be an increase of $6.66 per month or 6.3 percent. The monthly bill impact on electric commercial and industrial customers will range from an increase of approximately 3 percent to an increase of approximately 9 percent.

For National Grid Gas, the proposed rates will increase the Company’s annual operating revenue by approximately $30.3 million or 8.0 percent, with varying impacts on individual customer bills. The annual bill impact for a typical residential gas heating customer consuming 845 therms annually, would be an annual increase of $66.82 or 5.4 percent. The annual bill impact on gas commercial and industrial customers will range from an increase of approximately 1 percent to approximately 6 percent.

The PUC may approve different rates that may be higher or lower than those proposed by National Grid.

The application is available for examination at the PUC’s office. The filing can also be accessed at . Reference is made to Chapters 39-1, 39-3 and 42-35 of the Rhode Island General Laws.

These building are accessible to the handicapped. Individuals requesting interpreter services for the hearing impaired must notify the Commission Clerk’s office at 780-2107 seventy-two hours in advance of hearing date.

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.