In response to National Grid’s proposed utility rate hikes, Rhode Island’s Public Utilities Commission will be holding a series of public hearings across the state to accept comments.  These hikes would affect the distribution portion of Rhode Island utility bills.

The utility company had filed the proposal with Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission in November. 

Under the new proposal, residential electricity customers would see a monthly bill increase of 6 percent, which would cost the average customer about $6 more a month. Commercial and industrial electricity customers’ bill would range from a 3 to 9 percent increase, depending on customer size and usage per month. Gas customers would see a hike of about 5 percent hike, amounting to about $65 more per month, while commercial and industrial customers’ annual bill impact would range from 1 to 6 percent.

“If approved, the revised rates would allow the company to continue to improve service quality, deliver the safety and reliability our customers rely on, and pursue new initiatives focused on renewable energy, modernizing the grid, and helping income-eligible customers,” National Grid said in a November press release, adding that “the rate increase would include $41.3 million to support operations and new initiatives in National Grid’s electric business in Rhode Island.”

The Public Utilities Commission comprises two distinct regulatory bodies: a three-member Commission and the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers.  However, according the RIPUC’s website, the two regulatory bodies “generally operate in concert.”

“This is evidenced by the Division’s status as an indispensable party in all Commission proceedings, and the Division’s statutory charge to enforce all directives of the Commission. Both entities may conduct inquiries, investigations and hearings to effectuate their respective duties. Both may issue orders that have the force and effect of law,” the website reads.

Which is, according to George Wiley Center’s recent press release, the purpose of the upcoming series of public hearings: to make the community’s “voices heard on yet another utility rate increase proposal.”

“At the George Wiley Center we talk to many people who are shut off or facing shut-off because their bills are too high. It’s time for National Grid to agree to bring back the PIPP (Percentage Income Payment Plan) so that low-income people won’t be harmed by the corporation’s continued pursuit of profit over people’s access to basic needs,” said Camilo Viveiros, Coordinator of the George Wiley Center.   

The group’s press release also points out that “while National Grid, a British-based multinational corporation, makes billions in profit each year, over 20,000 Rhode Island households are imposed with utility shut-offs due to unaffordable bills,” adding, “In 2016 National Grid imposed 18,551 electric utility terminations and 8,518 gas utility terminations on households in Rhode Island.”

With these public hearings, the George Wiley Center, a Rhode Island grassroots organizing group, is intending to mobilize community members to speak out against the proposed rate hikes. 

“As part of the George Wiley Center’s ongoing push for improved utility services, community members will continue speaking out about issues such as unaffordable bills, stopping the shut-off crisis in Rhode Island, the need for a PIPP (Percentage Income Payment Plan) to make utilities affordable for low-income households, the need for National Grid to open physical customer service office(s), and other issues related to utility access,” reads the press release.  

Viveiros also said he was in the process of reaching out to several community members and organizations, who have coordinated with George Wiley Center in the past.  

“I am in the process of reaching out to the Jonnycake Center, the Warming Center, Tri-Town/South County Community Action as well as participants in the Westerly Basic Human Needs network. I can not speak on their behalf if they will be attending but in the past we have coordinated with them around utility issues,” he said on Tuesday.  

The public hearing in Pawtucket is one of a series of statewide hearings being held on Thursdays at 6 p.m. over the next several weeks, including Richmond (Feb. 22 at 6 p.m., Richmond Town Hall), Providence (March 1 at 6 p.m., Hope High School cafeteria), Narragansett (March 8 at 6 p.m. at Narragansett Town Hall), and Warwick (March 15 at 6 p.m., Public Utilities Commission).  

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