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The increase represents the standard offer rate, which is the energy portion of your bill
A recent rise in electricity rates in Rhode Island is spurring concerns from lawmakers, who worry the rate increase will hurt families already struggling financially amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Public Utilities Commission approved National Grid’s rate increase in September, tacking about $10 onto the average customer’s bill from Oct. 1 through March 31, despite several residents and lawmakers speaking out against it.
“The timing is awful, the economic situation is dire,” state Rep. Julie Casimiro, D-North Kingstown, said. “You have people working from home trying to help their kids with distance-learning, struggling to pay their bills and you want to put this on their backs now? The timing could not be worse.”
The increase represents the standard offer rate, which is the energy portion of your bill.
Division of Public Utilities and Carriers spokesman, Thomas Kogut, said the rate is set by the market and National Grid doesn’t profit from it.
“National Gird goes out for bids over a two-year period before the six-month period that’s now in place. They then present those numbers to the commission for review. They are reviewed and approved based on that file,” Kogut said.
Kogut said if the pricing data from the market is presented accurately, the commission can’t legally deviate from the requested rate.
The commission does have the power to defer the increase, which it has done in the past, but it chose not to.
Kogut said if the commission deferred the increase, it could have prevented rates from dropping in the spring, as they typically do.
“While a deferral does have a benefit it also has a detriment,” Kogut said.
Casimiro argues Rhode Islanders could be in a better financial situation come spring, depending on what happens with the pandemic and a potential coronavirus vaccine.
Kogut told NBC 10 News that the PUC considered the current economic situation, but also had to look ahead.
“There was a concern, obviously, about where we are right now in the fall of 2020 with the pandemic, but also a concern with where the economy may be going forward,” Kogut said.
Kogut said the commission also had to consider electricity use in the area, explaining that deferring the rate to the spring and summer, when energy use peaks in Southern New England, could have hurt customers more.
However, NBC 10 News uncovered that may not have been the only factor that stopped the deferral. In its PUC filing, National Grid cites concerns over what’s called community choice aggregation, or CCA, likely starting next year.
Several communities plan to purchase electricity from third-party suppliers in 2021, which could raise standard offer supply rates for remaining National Grid customers.
While the PUC failed to defer the electric rate increase, it did defer 50% of National Grid’s gas rate increase proposal weeks later, which may be the result of Rhode Islanders being able to get their electricity from a different supplier, but not their gas.
Casimiro said she believes they could have held off on both rate changes.
“They know the situation in Rhode Island. They know what Rhode Island is going through, what the unemployment rate is, and I think they could’ve done a better job pushing this off a little bit,” she said.
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