Amid chants of “Rescind the nomination,” Governor Gina Raimondo arrived home yesterday evening to the sight about twenty members of the Providence chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (ProvDSA) and their allies who had come to protest her nomination of Laura Olton to the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
Olton is a resident of Wellesley, Massachusetts (median income: $159,167), and a former lawyer for National Grid, a multi-national utility company that earned $3.5 billion dollars last year.
The three commissioners who sit on the PUC have the power to regulate the rates that Rhode Islanders pay for their utilities. Raimondo’s PUC has approved numerous rate hikes in the past year, disproportionately impacting low-income Rhode Islanders. The governor has not taken a position on House Bill 5780 which would create a Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP). This bill, which has been championed by the George Wiley Center and ProvDSA, would make utilities more affordable for low-income Rhode Islanders and prevent utility shutoffs.
According to the Energy Information Administration, Rhode Island residents already pay some of the highest utility rates in the continental United States.
Putting the Public Back in Public Utilities
ProvDSA’s goal is to build a better, more democratic, publicly owned utility. Here’s our vision for real and meaningful utilities reform:
- Stop and reverse all utilities shutoffs. Nobody should lose access to a human necessity such as heat or electricity because they can’t afford to pay.
- Implement the Percentage Income Payment Plan. PIPP, which has been used successfully before in Rhode Island, would ensure low-income customers would have continuous access to utilities by coupling their bill with their income.
- Stop National Grid’s excessive rate increases. We will stand up to National Grid when it tries to pad its $3.5 billion in profits by price-gouging Rhode Islanders.
- Democratize Rhode Island’s utilities through truly public ownership. We want to build a utilities system owned and directed democratically by the people of Rhode Island that will allow us to engage in a just transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
ProvDSA is a local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the largest socialist organization in the United States. DSA members are building progressive movements for social change while establishing an openly democratic socialist presence in American communities and politics. At the root of our socialism is a profound commitment to democracy, as means and end. As we are unlikely to see an immediate end to capitalism tomorrow, DSA fights for reforms today that will weaken the power of corporations and increase the power of working people, such as stopping utility shutoffs and implementing a Percentage Income Payment Plan. Our vision is of a society in which people have a real voice in the choices and relationships that affect the entirety of our lives. We call this vision democratic socialism — a vision of a more free, democratic and humane society.