“Newly elected legislators are sending a signal that we’re not going to be complacent with policy decisions that negatively affect working people.“
Five newly elected members of the Rhode Island General Assembly and one incumbent today sent a letter to the boardmembers of the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC) asking the boardmembers to “urgently reverse [their] votes approving National Grid’s electric rate increase.” Yesterday the PUC “reluctantly” agreed to the annual winter rate increase request from National Grid.
PUC Chair Ronald Gerwatowksi and Commissioners Marion Gold and Abigail Anthony, all appointed by Governor Gina Raimondo, all voted for the rate increase, despite testimony from customers that raising the rates during a pandemic will have disastrous effects on struggling families.
“Newly elected legislators are sending a signal that we’re not going to be complacent with policy decisions that negatively affect working people,” said Representative Elect David Morales to UpriseRI. “Just last month, for example, the Insurance Commissioner of the State approved, for Blue Cross/Blue Shield, to increase premiums. Had we already been elected we would have already sent a letter in response to that as well.”
“This makes it clear for both elected and appointed officials that if they make decisions like this, that impact working people, especially during a global pandemic, we are going to respond to them in a way that asks them to prioritize the actual interests of people,” continued Morales. “But most importantly, making sure that this doesn’t go under the rug. A lot of decisions oftentimes are rubber stamped. There’s no public input, and things proceed as if everything is normal and working people have to pick up the burden.
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“So for the first time ever, we want to insure that our working class communities, our communities of color, our local residents – have a voice.”
In their letter to the PUC, the legislators note that, “As a result of approving National Grid’s electric rate increase, however, a typical residential customer using 500 kWh per month will now see their rates drastically increase by $10.78 per month or 9.8% (for many, that is equivalent to one hour’s worth of labor). Despite being in a pandemic with low levels of economic opportunity, the average resident’s utility bill will now increase by nearly 10% each month.”
“If you were in session right now, do you think this would have resulted in some sort of legislative action on your part?” asked UpriseRI.
“Yes of course,” said Morales. “I think legislative action is going to be the response moving forward with a lot of these policy and administrative decisions. unfortunately, we have not been sworn in yet, so the most we can do is raise public awareness by sending letters and above all, trying to advise these public officials that these decisions are wrong.”
The letter was sent by Senator-Elect Jeanine Calkin (Democrat, District 30, Warwick), Jonathon Acosta (Democrat, District 16, Central Falls) and and Tiara Mack (Democrat, District 6, Providence); Representatives-Elect David Morales and Brianna Henries, (Democrat, District 64, East Providence) and incumbent Senator Samuel Bell (Democrat, District 5, Providence).
Raising rates during a pandemic is wrong. This is why you don’t appoint a former lawyer for National Grid to head the PUC. https://t.co/FCmSN46xXw— Jeanine Calkin (@jeaninecalkin) September 29, 2020
This is so wrong. We are in a damn pandemic, thousands are unemployed, and the minimum wage is still below $12.— RI State Rep-Elect David Morales 🌹 (@DavidMoralesRI) September 29, 2020
The greed of National Grid and the complacency from the Public Utilities Commission is absolutely appalling. This is an insult to working people. https://t.co/wPpdOZ1GWl
Here’s the letter:
Dear Public Utilities Commission:
We write to you asking that you urgently reverse your votes approving National Grid’s electric rate increase. Furthermore, we ask that you vote against National Grid’s new proposal for a distribution adjustment charge which would further increase annual utility costs to residents.
We are in a global pandemic alongside high levels of unemployment and economic insecurity. Compared to other states, Rhode Island’s economy has been one of the most impacted as unemployment still stands above 10% and the minimum wage remains below $12.00, thus, leaving thousands of working families struggling to pay their rent, utilities, and groceries. Now more than ever, we need affordable utilities, not rate hikes.
Unfortunately, National Grid electric rates are not affordable, and are in fact some of the most expensive in the country. According to a recent 2018 report by Move.org, it was reported that Rhode Island residents pay the 9th highest electricity costs in the country. This is why the PUC exists, however, to regulate National Grid and help ensure Rhode Island residents are receiving fair and affordable electric rates. After all, National Grid is essentially the utility monopoly of our state and as it stands, they have billions of dollars in assets. They can afford to cover ‘pass-through costs’ as opposed to placing the burden on the customer.
As a result of approving National Grid’s electric rate increase, however, a typical residential customer using 500 kWh per month will now see their rates drastically increase by $10.78 per month or 9.8% (for many, that is equivalent to one hour’s worth of labor). Despite being in a pandemic with low levels of economic opportunity, the average resident’s utility bill will now increase by nearly 10% each month.
This has already been a stressful year as working people have been laid off, they are concerned for their health, and some have even lost loved ones. It is not right that Rhode Island residents may be forced to experience another rate hike. We respectfully ask that the PUC reverse the vote to approve National Grid’s electric rate increase and vote against National Grid’s new proposal for a distribution adjustment charge.