Fox may bring back defeated National Grid bill if Senate OKs it

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – House Speaker Gordon Fox suffered a rare floor defeat Thursday on a bill to change how National Grid deals with customer defaults, but a spokesman says the Democratic leader is brushing off the bungle and may still push it into law.

“There were some misstatements given by opponents,” House spokesman Larry Berman told “This was definitely not a leadership-type vote, where some people are saying this was anti-leadership. There were a lot of people who didn’t like the bill in the first place and they voted against this.”

The House voted 28-37 on Thursday to defeat a bill sponsored by state Rep. Scott Slater [pdf] and backed by Fox’s leadership team that would have amended the 2011 Henry Shelton Act to let National Grid recoup losses from low-income residents’ unpaid bills by charging other ratepayers. Under current law, the utility writes off losses as bad debt.

“That was something that National Grid asked us if we could change,” Berman said. “This language was supposed to be in the original bill, and that’s how it was described on the floor last year. But for whatever reason it wasn’t in the final bill, so what we told National Grid was we would clarify it this year.”

The Senate is scheduled to vote Wednesday afternoon on an identical bill [pdf] sponsored by state Sen. Joshua Miller. Senate spokesman Greg Pare did not respond to a question about whether the Senate would still take the vote despite what happened in the House. If the Senate passes Miller’s bill, the House could still make the change by passing the Senate legislation even though Slater’s bill died.

House Minority Leader Brian Newberry, who helped muster opposition to the Slater bill, described Berman’s legislative history as “irrelevant.” Bad debt is tax deductible, which means the utility would effectively recoup its losses from federal taxpayers, while this bill would make Rhode Islanders alone foot the bill, he said.

“It puts more of the burden on Rhode Island ratepayers – that’s the fundamental issue,” Newberry, R-North Smithfield, told “Grid gets paid either way. A vote in favor of the legislation would be a vote to increase the rates of Rhode Island ratepayers more so than they would have increased anyway.”

Berman disagreed. “Most of the people who are now repaying 50% [under the Shelton Act program] – they didn’t pay anything before, so we don’t anticipate that there would be anything passed onto the companies, because the companies were getting zero before. … It was just a confluence of people who didn’t understand the change and the people who opposed it in the first place who wanted to kill the program.”

Berman called the Shelton Act “one of the major victories of last session” though it only created “a very small program” that has been used by nearly 700 households so far. Eligibility tracks the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which has an annual income cap of $52,601 for families of four.

The original Henry Shelton Act passed the House by an overwhelming 49-19 margin in 2011, but 19 lawmakers who supported it last year switched sides Thursday and voted against Slater’s proposed change.

Those 19 who split were state Reps. Samuel Azzinaro, John Carnevale, Elaine Coderre, Spencer Dickinson, Raymond Hull, Raymond Johnston Jr., Peter Martin, James McLaughlin, Leo Medina, Mary Messier, Patricia Morgan, Eileen Naughton, Peter Palumbo, Deborah Ruggiero, Teresa Tanzi, Michael Tarro, Lisa Tomasso, Joe Trillo and Donna Walsh. Another 10 House lawmakers missed Thursday’s vote.

• Related: Rare event at the General Assembly: bill gets killed on the floor (April 5)

(photo: Ted Nesi/WPRI)

26 thoughts on “Fox may bring back defeated National Grid bill if Senate OKs it

  1. Is it accurate that before the original bill was passed, National Grid wrote off all of the bad debt, and now that they get paid 50%, they want to charge RI consumers instead of writing off the rest of their bad debt, well, as bad debt? If so, then why is the leadership of the House sponsoring such anti-consumer legislation? Who is the highly paid lobbyist for National Grid? Where is the Governor on this issue?

    Or, is there another explanation? If this is the vote that brings down the House, so to speak, we should at least understand the issue.

  2. ted, there has got to be more to the story than this. Can you please post the total list of who voted against Foxes team?

    • what I mean is, the vote tally and the partial list is kind of hard to put in context going back and forth.

      • Mr. Fish,
        You can go to the Rhode Island House of Representatives web site and look up the bill number. From there you can look up who voted yes or no on the bill. I was on the house floor at the time of the vote and I have never seen a bill fail that the leader supports. I did vote NO on the bill and if it does come back I will vote no again.

  3. The fundamental problem with this bill is that it allows the utilities to operate bad debt as a profit center with all the risk covered by the rate payers.

    This is a stealth tax!!

  4. I’ve got an idea. How about the PUC and the media make some attempt to get answers on why Natural Gas and Electric rates are not being adjusted downwards in a market reaction to the incredibly low price of natural gas.

    Todays price 2.073/MMBTU

    There is so much natural gas right now that producers have run out of storage facilities. They are looking to build LNG facilities so they can ship it over seas.

    About 4-5 years ago National Grid was allowed a 23% electric rate increase based on natural gas rates which had peaked to nearly $14/MMBTU. Then 6 months later there was a 21% decrease when prices dropped to about $8/MMBTU.

    A year or so ago there was a small decrease I believe 5% when prices dropped and stayed at $4/MMBTU. A 50% drop in prices yields a minuscule rate drop.

    Now rates are just above $2/MMBTU and have been for some time. Yet not a peep from anyone in the media or the PUC.

    There is no reason for a rate hearing. Prices should be pegged to actual wholesale prices.

    When prices go up National Grid gets the PUC to act quickly. When prices go down they are silent.

    • the reason National Grid rates keep going up is thanks to the action of the General Assembly and previous adminstration! Rhode Island is part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Participation in RGGI requires RI to get 16% of its energy from renewable energy sources. Currently 99% of RI’s energy comes from natural gas. Every time we miss one of the deadlines to increase our use of renewables, National Grid must pay a premium, thus, the reason for the latest PUC approved rate hike. RI needs to get out of RGGI just like New Hampshire and New Jersey did. Several State laws need to be changed and we need to cut all grant funding to these projects that promote green propoganda and research at the universities.

      Rhode Island

      Air Pollution Control no. 46: CO2 Budget Trading Program

      Air Pollution Control no. 47: CO2 Budget Trading Allowance Distribution

      R.I. Gen. Laws §42-17.1-2(19), §23-23 and §23-82 (as amended)

    • National Grid buys their Gas at set rates years in advance in order to get the best possible rate. National Grid did just lower their rates.

      • Sorry, that doesn’t jive with the emergency rate increase of 23% 4-5 years ago when they claimed they were losing money and the decrease some 6 months later.

  5. This is strange stuff. Anyone with half a brain can see that this legislation is bad for consumers and doesn’t help anyone but National Grid. So what’s the big deal? Why is Fox pushing this? Whose ox got gored here? Which lobbyist is bent because all the money he spent at Capital Grille went down the toilet? Is someone “special” on the hook to lose their job if this doesn’t pass?

  6. Yet another example of the absolute power from the Democrats. The only way to stop this is to restore balance to the RI Legislature. As long as Democrats outnumber Republicans 9 to 1, there are no checks and balances. With this in mind the Democrats in the General Assembly get full credit for Rhode Island ranking at or near the bottom in most categories. We are ranked 50th for business and second for unemployment. We also rank among the worst for governmnet transparency. Need more proof?

  7. It is wrong for Fox to resurrect this defeated bill.Which lobbyist is paying him off? Who the hell is he to tell rate payers like me to give to the poor who can’t pay their bill. Let him and the other rich lawyers like his puppet Mattiello who also voted for it give from their own personal checkbooks..then they can write it off to the IRS! They should not use other people’s who pay our bills even though it is a hardship for many of us ..but National Grid is a monopoly and with Fox’s help, it seems they will win out again…

    Is this how the Gen Assembly works?
    If Fox can’t get it passed the first time, he tries again and yet puts important bills like Term Limits in the dead on arrival pile, when he puts it in Further study.

    I do not want National Grid pushing their debt problems on us ratepayers…consumers should not be voting for those lawmakers who say YES again, if there is a second vote. Vote out these lawmakers. Government (Fox, Mattiello- those who voted YES) should not be dictating to you that your bill money goes to the poor..that is an individual decision you make….

  8. My dad lives in Foster and was already charged 83 cents extra on his last month’s bill. When he called the national greed thay informed him the charge was to help the poor who couldn’t pay.CHECK YOUR ELECTRIC BILL CAREFULLY!!!

  9. Here is a story about National Grid lowering rates in Massachusetts due to over supply of natural gas in the Northeast and ‘market’ forces. Notice that the RI story mentions nothing about the decline in Natural Gas prices.

    Also notice that the average customer bill in MA and RI start out close to identical at $74.21 in MA and $73.96 in RI. Now look at the price after these changes $66.47 in MA and $78.19 in RI. That’s the same company with the same fuel contracts and MA has the same BS carbon certificates also.

    Here is a story about National Grid raising rates in RI during the same time period.

    “The cost of electricity is falling with the price of natural gas used to generate most of the power used in the region, Graves said. A mild winter has left natural gas storage facilities filled to capacity, especially in the Northeast, he said.

    “It’s really market forces that are at work,” he said.”

  10. Jim Donahue your analysis is Spot on! The price of natural gas is at decade lows! National Grid should be lowering prices. In fact, when natural gas and oil peaked a few years back and they drastically raised our rates, they lowered them a small percentage compared to the percentage they increased it. I called the Public Utilities Commission to ask specific questions and was transferred all over the building.

    In fact, they rate increase is tied to this:

    Participation in RGGI requires RI to get 16% of its energy from renewable energy sources. Natural gas is dirt cheap and renewable energy is more expensive. We need to get rid of these laws! Once again, back to the DEMOCRATS who passed them all.

  11. National Grid is deducting $0.83 per month from my gas bill and $0.83 per month from my electric bill for LIHeap.

    Sounds like this may be not be legal since the law provides it to be written off.

    Is this proposed legislation retroactive to make National Grid’s actions of passing this on to the account holders already legal????

  12. I just read the bill proposed by Senator Miller. What it does is IN ADDITION to the LIHEAP assessment levied on paying customers of gas and electric accounts required by law, National Grid would assess its PAYING customers for a proportional amount of “arrearage” of NONPAYING customers. So if someone doesn’t pay his/her bills you will be required by law to ante up to pay part of it.

    • So let me get this straight. People who go to work and are responsible and pay their bills have to pay for the deadbeats that skip out on their bills. THese people put their electric bill in their kids names and don’t pay the bills. I do not mind giving for the less fortunate and the elderly, but i refuse to pay for someone who does this because they do not want to work. Pass legislation to allow NGRID to never give electric service to a cusotmer who never pays and lower the limits for shutting them off.

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