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Many opposed to proposed National Grid rate increase

Ellen Abbott
Most people at Monday's hearing were opposed to the proposed rate increase.

The New York State Public Service Commission continues to gather comments on National Grid’s proposed rate hike. In Syracuse this week, the biggest crowd turned out so far in a series of five hearings across the state. And most were opposed to the idea.

A recurring theme among many of those opposed to the rate hike was that low-income residents would suffer if forced to pay more for gas and electric.

"Some people just can’t afford to pay National Grid if they continue going up and up,” said one person in attendance.

The company says it needs the increase to upgrade and modernize their system, and create programs to advance new energy sources. National Grid spokeswoman Virginia Limmiatis says the rate hike will also enhance programs like HEAP, which supplements electric bills for low-income individuals.

"Despite what folks think, those HEAP-eligible customers would actually experience a decrease in their delivery rates. We have a very robust energy affordability program that’s part of the proposal,” Limmiatis said. "It’s not about choosing energy over food and medicine, this is not about that. It’s about us and an opportunity to help grow the region, to continue to invest in our infrastructure, to continue safety and reliability, power quality for our customers.”

National Grid is asking for a $331 million rate increase, the first in over a dozen years, according to Limmiatis. She says gas and electric customers would pay an average of $8 a month extra for each service.

But at the hearing, customers like Linda Tomlinson suggested the rate increase is unfair to low income individuals, considering what she says is a 9 percent profit margin for the utility.

“I mean 60,000 people had their power turned off. That’s outrageous. And they want to increase that profit margin. Who gets 9 percent? What do you get on bank accounts, 1 percent or 2 percent? That’s what they should get, not 9 percent.”

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and the entire Common Council wrote a letter opposing the rate increases, saying that in addition to it being difficult on the Syracuse’s poorest residents, the city cannot afford to pay an increased power bill.

The Public Service Commission has the final say for an increase that would go into effect in April of 2018. The PSC will continue to take comments on the rate increase beyond the public hearings. The final public hearing will be held in Buffalo Tuesday.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.