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Editorial: Electric rate hike asks a lot when wages haven't also increased

The state Public Service Commission should take a close look at a three-year deal between National Grid and state regulators that hikes the average residential customer’s monthly bill by about 11 percent over three years.

The utility should get ready for more comments at public hearings. The PSC is expected to make a decision sometime in April or May and could change the terms.

Utility customers really do not have much choice. Energy suppliers have flooded the market but it may be hard for the average customer to find significant savings. The agreement between National Grid and state regulators has lots of backers from environmental groups to unions to local solar interests. But an 11 percent hike, even over three years, is a lot. Most people have not received 11 percent pay raises – even over three years.

The higher rates add $2.22 a month to the typical residential customer’s bill immediately. The increase totals about $8.50 a month by the third year, likely in the spring of 2020. This is all dependent upon the PSC approving the deal.

The list of supporters is impressive: 17 environmental groups, business customers and upstate municipalities, including Tesla and the City of Buffalo.

The increase is less than the one National Grid initially wanted. That one would have eventually meant more than $11 a month. Cooler heads prevailed in July when the utility reduced its proposed rate increase.

The agreement applies only to the delivery rates that the utility charges its customers. Executives at National Grid say it would allow the company to invest an additional $2.5 billion over the next three years to upgrade its electricity and natural gas delivery networks. Expected improvements should make it easier to connect renewable energy generation projects, they said. That would be a useful development and better still, if it helps to bolstering Tesla’s South Buffalo RiverBend plant, where it is manufacturing solar panels.

The deal continues National Grid’s new Energy Affordability Programs. But it leaves its customers paying more money when wages have not increased at the same double-digit rate.

The PSC should carefully review the agreement and explain to customers why they should pay that much more.

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