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National Grid rate increase would expand affordability program, critics fear more shutoffs

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News File Photo
The Niagara Mohawk building, owned by National Grid, in downtown Syracuse.

If a National Grid rate hike is approved by the state Public Service Commission, residential customers could be paying $16 more a month on their electric and gas bills over the next three years. Critics say the increase could hurt the most vulnerable.

National Grid spokesperson Virginia Limmiatias said the proposal includes a $2.5 billion investment in its energy network and 250 new jobs.

“We haven’t had a significant rate increase in over a decade," Limmiatias said. "That’s an issue to consider. There is a cost that is directly connected to the delivery of energy.”

National Grid would also expand its Energy Affordability Program, increasing enrollment by more than 50,000 income-eligible customers. Limmiatias said that would mitigate rate increases and those customers would see a decrease in their bills.

"The goal is to ensure eligible customers pay no more than six percent of their annual income on utility bills," Limmiatias said. "That's significant."

Rich Puchalski, executive director of Syracuse United Neighbors said his organization is against the increase, concerned about more power shutoffs.

“That’s a critical problem in our neighborhoods," Puchalski said. "I see too often people having their utility bills escalate and they can’t catch up in terms of back payments because they are on fixed-income or low-income residents."

He said his organization has been hearing people paying $50, $100, $150 on their energy bills in the last bill cycle. That could bring difficulties for some people to pay on time.

"If they're living on fixed-income they're going to be pushing out to the summer months and hopefully we don't see shutoffs," Puchalski said. "This is a tough winter and it ain't letting up.” 

If the Public Service Commission rejects the proposal, negotiations with National Grid start over. If no deal is reached, it goes to litigation. A decision could be made in the next few weeks. If approved, the 3-year plan would start this spring.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.