RI Energy is increasing utility prices. Here’s what you can doThe PUC is scheduled to hear public comment, beginning at 9am on September 16 in Hearing Room A at the PUC’s office located at 89 Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick regarding multiple Rhode Island Energy electric and gas rate proposals, including the proposed increases to what the PUC calls Last Resort Service electricity rates and natural gas supply and delivery charges.
Published on September 12, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist
Rhode Island Energy, the company that bought out National Grid and now supplies gas and electricity to most Rhode Islanders announced a significant price hike back in July, estimated to cost about $52 per household, per month, on average. But this price hike can only come with the approval of the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The George Wiley Center has partnered with State Representative David Morales (Democrat, District 7, Providence) and other activists and organizations to stop this increase. To that end they have the following demands:
- The PUC must decrease the profit margin of utility companies, from 10% back to 6%;
- Rhode Island Energy should voluntarily set their profit margin at lower levels, instead of what the PUC allows;
- Rhode Island Energy must commit to working to pass a Percentage Income Payment Plan (PIPP); and,
- Rhode Island Energy must share the burden of increasing electricity and natural gas market costs by absorbing some of the increased costs and by withdrawing their current rate hike proposals.
The PUC is scheduled to hear public comment, beginning at 9am on September 16 in Hearing Room A at the PUC’s office located at 89 Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick regarding multiple Rhode Island Energy electric and gas rate proposals, including the proposed increases to what the PUC calls Last Resort Service electricity rates and natural gas supply and delivery charges. [The notice for the public comment hearing can be found by clicking here. The public can provide comment in person, by Zoom meeting, or in writing at PUC.PublicComments@puc.ri.gov.] After public comment the PUC will hold an evidentiary hearing, starting at 1pm, limited to just the issue of RIE’s proposal for Last Resort Service electricity rates for the upcoming winter. [That evidentiary hearing notice can be found by clicking here. The public can attend the evidentiary hearing in person or remotely at our streaming video linked here.] Hearings on the gas price increases have yet to be scheduled.
At a press conference held at the George Wiley Center on Friday, September 9, organizer Camilo Viveiros spoke about the proposed rate increases.
“We are absolutely done with these misinformed, self-serving corporatist excuses,” said Viveiros. “It’s too late. These are 50% rate increases.” Viveiros noted that newly elected Prime Minister Liz Trust, who leads the conservative Tory government, has announced her intention of enacting a two-year utility rate freeze to combat higher prices. Viveiros also noted that if Rhode Island Energy had the assets to purchase National Grid in the state, then they have the money to help avoid or absorb this huge rate hike. This rate hike, noted Viveiros, is not an act of good faith for a company who promised the PUC and other stakeholders that they would improve services and lower costs for ratepayers.
Ted Kresse, spokesperson for Rhode Island Energy did not address the idea of the company absorbing the rate increase or any of the George Wiley Center demands. In a statement, he said, “We share the George Wiley Center’s concern about escalating energy prices impacted by global conflicts and constrained supplies. That’s why we are working with regulators to ensure that bill credits and debt forgiveness committed to as part of PPL’s purchase of The Narragansett Electric Company will be credited to accounts in the coming months. Discount rates, budget billing and payment assistance plans are also available for those who need it, helping provide additional relief.”
The PUC told Uprise RI that it does not expect to hold evidentiary hearings on theses “small electric delivery rate decreases” proposed by Rhode Island Energy until about a week after Friday.
“We’re not going to accept leaders that their solution is to give people a one-time $50-60 discount, but don’t support a Percentage of Income Payment Plan and don’t support the rejection of this rate increase,” said Viveiros noting the weak actions of Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee on this issue. “This is an attack on our communities. It’s an attack on the disabled, it’s an attack on seniors.”
“In less than a year since acquiring control of our public utility services from National Grid, Rhode Island Energy has proposed historic rate hikes for electric and natural gas services,” said Representative Morales. “For electricity, Rhode Island is proposing a rate hike of 47% and for natural gas they are proposing a rate hike of 15%. In order for these rate hikes to go into effect, they both have to be approved by the Public Utilities Commission. Alongside the George Wiley Center, we stand against RI Energy’s request to enact the largest rate increase in decades for electric and natural gas services. During a time where working people, families, and seniors are struggling with inflation and stagnant incomes, we cannot allow for our utility rates to drastically increase.”
Several people testified at the press conference about the effect these rate hikes will have on their finances.
“Sometimes I can’t pay my bills because the come so high, and all I can do is pay my cost of living, my rent,” said Minerva, who is on social security and has health issues. When she called Rhode Island Energy to make a payment plan, the plan was too expensive for her to make payments.
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Ana Cruz, known as Judy in the community, is an activist helping those struggling to pay their bills. She noted the compounding problems of struggling to pay rent and utilities at low wages. “Minimum wage is not enough,” said Cruz. She noted that if a home does not have electricity, DCYF will come and take the children away.
- “A rate hike will be an injustice, especially to those on a fixed income or no income at all.”
- Mrs. Torres has had three strokes and is awaiting approval or her disabilities. She lives in the dark because she cannot afford her bills and has no income.
- Daniel Lorrie’s wife passed away, and he is hundreds of dollars behind on both gas and electric bills. He is homebound and very much disabled.
Rhode Island Energy wants to portray these rate increases as ordinary, and as part of the global gas shortages caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We and our regulators have been noting the potential for higher rates since the Spring, when summer electric rates dropped to one of their lowest rates in years,” said Rhode Island Energy spokesperson Kresse. “When the price of natural gas goes up, so does electricity and the cost of heating. This is especially true in the winter when constrained natural gas supplies are needed to power and heat our buildings. This increase in supply prices is happening across much of the region and is not unique to Rhode Island. Electric customers in parts of Massachusetts are seeing rates quite similar to those proposed here, while further north in New Hampshire, customers are being asked to pay rates 25% higher than rates proposed here. Said simply, the New England power grid remains largely dependent on natural gas for its electric demands.
“To note, the recent rate filings for both winter electric prices and annual heating costs are made at the same time every year. Just as National Grid did in years past, Rhode Island Energy procures these supplies for our customers and passes them along to customers without profit. And while we purchase and safely deliver that energy to our customers, we do not own the power plants or facilities where the energy is generated or control the markets that set these prices.“
Uprise asked for comments on the proposed rate increases from the PUC chair and members, but was told that, “You may hear comments from the Commissioners at the hearings, but they are not providing comments on these open cases at this time except to encourage the public to review the relevant filings on our website and to provide their comments.“
The PUC is scheduled to hear public comment, beginning at 9am on September 16 in Hearing Room A at the PUC’s office located at 89 Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick regarding multiple Rhode Island Energy electric and gas rate proposals, including the proposed increases to what the PUC calls Last Resort Service electricity rates and natural gas supply and delivery charges.