For Immediate Release
Contact: Bob Cohen, Citizen Action of New York, 518-265-6183, email@example.com
Over 120 organizations from across New York State weighed in today on National Grid’s plan to raise its upstate gas and electric rates. In a letter to the Public Service Commission — a five-member board of utility regulators appointed by Governor Cuomo — the signatory organizations excoriated National Grid’s proposed rate increase. The utility filed its proposal in July, 2020, hoping to fund a variety of gas and electric infrastructure projects, higher profits for its investors, and a number of pilot projects that it claimed would be beneficial to the environment. Settlement negotiations between the company, the Department of Public Service, and parties to the rate case commenced last week. A decision is expected later this year.
National Grid’s proposed rate increase will be another financial blow to upstate New Yorkers who are struggling to afford basic necessities,” reads the letter. “The COVID-19 pandemic has already led to many tens of thousands taking pay cuts or being laid off entirely…The company’s proposal is also objectionable because it proposes to devote significant ratepayer dollars to make investments that will worsen the impacts of climate change, even though New York has enacted the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), ground-breaking legislation committing New York to all but eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.”
The letter signed by 122 organizations is the latest show of opposition to National Grid’s rate hike, which was roundly and emphatically criticized in public statement hearings last October, and again via written testimony in November 2020 by experts working on behalf of environmental, community, and consumer protection groups. Expert testimony demonstrated that National Grid’s rate hike and many of its planned investments are not in the public interest, and that the utility’s plans fall far short of what is needed to meet state mandated climate goals.
We call on Governor Cuomo and the Public Service Commission to act now to reduce utility bills and address climate change,” said Jessica Azulay, Executive Director of Alliance for a Green Economy. “We cannot afford to fund increased utility profits, climate destructive gas infrastructure expansion, or false solutions that waste money going in the wrong direction. We must turn utility funds toward meeting basic needs and building the green economy.”
At a time when more than 160,000 National Grid customers in upstate New York are already behind on their energy bills (on average owing over $1,000 per household), with little relief in sight, the utility faces an uphill battle to justify charging customers even more in coming years.
“Before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, utility bills were unaffordable for many of National Grid’s upstate utility consumers. But since March of 2020 the number of residential accounts in arrears sixty-days or greater has ballooned over 40%. The Company’s proposed rate-hike ignores the needs of financially and medically vulnerable households and is good for the Company but not its customers. PULP joins in calling upon the State Public Service Commission to reject this proposal outright,” said Richard Berkley, Executive Director of the Public Utility Law Project of New York (“PULP”).
“National Grid does not deserve any more of our money when their CEO brings in $6.8 million per year and the company has doled out $14.6 billion in dividend payments to shareholders since 2015. It’s really that simple. Outside of this rate case National Grid is proposing to move up to $50 million of our money to bail out customers and businesses that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We do need to help our struggling neighbors, but funds for utility bill relief should come from National Grid’s profits. Dividend payments to shareholders and investors should be halted until the company provides relief to its customers first,” said Clarke Gocker, Director of Policy and Strategy at PUSH Buffalo.
The utility also faces tough criticism over its gas business, which contributes to the climate crisis. Of particular concern is the company’s proposed “Albany Loop” gas infrastructure project, which advocates say is a prime example of wasteful utility spending on unnecessary gas infrastructure.
“National Grid is proposing to increase rates nearly $100 a year for electric and gas customers and use some of the money to expand its gas delivery infrastructure, even though the state has mandated that utilities address climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by the end of this decade,” said Bob Cohen, Policy Director of Citizen Action of New York, which has chapters throughout upstate New York. “Common sense says that in order to meet the state’s climate targets, we need to decrease emissions, not build new pipelines like Albany Loop. We need the Company to go back to the drawing board and rework its proposal to get serious about transitioning to energy efficiency and renewables.”
“National Grid has recently admitted that there is no need for its Albany Loop pipeline proposal due to decreasing demand and is instead stating – without any support – that the pipeline is needed for reliability, “ said Bob Connors of Stop NY Fracked Gas Pipeline. “The company must recognize that we are facing a climate crisis, and New York State is mandating a transition to renewables. The Public Service Commission (PSC) should not allow National Grid to profit from climate destruction, and should instead take steps like canceling new gas hookups, fixing gas leaks, and effecting greater efficiencies. Albany Loop is simply unnecessary, and the PSC should not allow our ratepayer dollars to fund it.”