National Grid gets OK to raise electricity rates

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — After hearing several hours of sometimes emotional testimony, members of the Public Utilities Commission Tuesday approved an electricity rate increase requested by National Grid.

The commission voted unanimously to approve the winter rate increase from 6.3 cents per kilowatt hour to 9.5 cents. For the average customer, that means an increase of about $17 a month.

Pauline Belal, a mother from Cranston, was one of more than a dozen people testifying at the hearing.

“I’m not asking you for free, I’m asking you for fair. I’m not asking somebody to support me. I don’t want to go on your welfare systems. I don’t want your food stamps. I want to be able to sustain my home on my own,” Belal said.

The rate increase isn’t sitting well with politicians on both the state and local level.

“Access to power is a basic fundamental human need and needs to be treated as such. Not as a privilege for those who can afford it,” State Rep. Aaron Regunberg, D-Providence, said.

Following the vote, Gov. Gina Raimondo also criticized the increase.

“Hard-working, middle-class Rhode Island families need relief. I am disappointed that Rhode Islanders’ electricity bills will be going up this winter,” Raimondo said in a statement. “In the months ahead, I will direct our regulators to complete a comprehensive review of the utility companies’ rates and ensure that Rhode Island consumers are paying a fair rate and not a penny more.”

National Grid said it’s paying more for energy, so customers must pay more as well.

“We share the concerns of our customers. This hearing today was really about the price of energy,”  National Grid spokesman Ted Kresse said. “National Grid goes out, finds the best possible price for our customers, passes that along to them with no profit or markup, and delivers it to them.”

Kresse said the rates will change again next spring but he expects the higher prices to persist.

“The energy prices that are procured through National Grid and ISO New England – which is the nonprofit operator – they’re set many years in advance,” Kresse explained. “There was an auction a few years ago at the time when a few power generators were going offline, which caused a spike in price. We’re seeing the effects of that now. It looks like it’s probably going to last a couple years and so we’ll be in this together. We encourage consumers to try to find the most energy-efficient ways to lower their energy costs, lower their energy use in their homes.”

National Grid also said customers may be able to save money by buying their electricity through a competitive supplier on the state’s EmpowerRI website.