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National Grid calls for rate hikes

ALBANY — An advocate for utility customers signaled Tuesday it will strongly contest a proposal from National Grid for higher electric and gas rates for communities across a broad swath of upstate New York.

National Grid said it initially planned to file its rate case in April but delayed the submission because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the company, residential electricity customers would see an average bill increase of 4%, or $3.43 per month. The increase would be steeper for residential gas customers, with an average bill climbing 6%, or $4.53 per month.

Residential gas customers would see an average bill increase of 6%, or $4.53 per month.

The proposed rate increases are projected to yield $100.4 million a year in additional revenue from electricity delivery, with higher gas delivery rates projected to generate nearly $42 million annually. The combined increases total some $142 million.

National Grid’s New York president, John Bruckner, said in a statement the company, while filing a one-year plan, hopes to attain a multi-year agreement “that would phase in new rates to further mitigate customer bill impacts.”

Richard Berkley, director of the Public Utility Law Project, a ratepayer advocacy group, said both the electric and gas requests have the potential to leave customer facing rate hikes exceeding 10% over a three-year period.

“We will oppose any double-digit increases anywhere in the state during this economic crisis that we’re in,” Berkley told CNHI.

National Grid’s filing is believed to be the first effort by a New York utility to incorporate a plan for addressing the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, whose goal is to have the state run on carbon-free electricity by 2040 while also slashing greenhouse gas emissions.

Berkley said he expects municipal leaders from the upstate region will become involved in the proceeding with a view towards negotiating a settlement that does not take an economic toll on the upstate economy “This is going to raise their bills at a time when they are all having significant fiscal stress,” he said.

National Grid contends it needs new rates to pay for energy affordability programs, support economic development programs and invest in energy efficiency initiatives and programs that help customers manage usage.

In announcing the filing, National Grid also revealed it will provide $50 million in “COVID relief” to support “economically vulnerable residential customers as well as businesses that are struggling because of the financial impact of the pandemic.”

Bruckner said National Grid will work with Public Service Commission staff and other parties to determine eligibility details. The plan to provide the assistance will be filed separately from the request to reset delivery rates beginning in July 2021 so that the COVID relief can be made available to customers more quickly.

The company’s current three-year rate agreement expires March 31.

National Grid serves 1.6 million electricity customers in New York, while 600,000 households rely on the utility for natural gas service.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com T

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