Rhode Island regulators approve steep electric rate increase; will phase in over 12 months

EnergyAssociated Press

Utility regulators approved a steep increase in electricity rates Tuesday but will spread the costs over all of next year to ease the impact on consumers.

The Rhode Island State Public Utilities Commission agreed to spread an increase of 24 percent, compared to last January, over 12 months instead of six. The monthly bill for a typical Rhode Island household will increase from about $87 to $99.

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National Grid says the rate hike is due to a higher demand for natural gas, with more power plants burning natural gas to generate electricity.

National Grid is required to procure power and is allowed to recover the costs. The commission couldn't have refused National Grid's request outright but it did have the power to defer the costs to customers over a longer period, said Thomas Kogut, spokesman for the state Division of Public Utilities and Carriers.

If the costs were not deferred, typical households would have paid $109 per month from January through June, and about $90 per month from July through December.

Poverty advocates from the George Wiley Center say the 14.25 percent increase that was approved is still too much. Camilo Viveiros, the lead organizer for the Pawtucket center, said he fears there will be "mass terminations and shutoffs." He said thousands of people in Rhode Island already have their utilities shut off annually because they can't pay their bills.

"To increase that is just irresponsible and inhumane," he said.

The center asked people to attend Tuesday's meeting. The Providence Journal reports opponents packed the room, chanting: "National Grinch" and "Shame, shame, shame."

State Sen. Paul V. Jabour had asked the commission not to act until the General Assembly reconvenes in January and could hold hearings on the request.

"It is very difficult to digest the cost of this increase, which will have a staggering impact on small business owners as well as low-income and middle-class Rhode Islanders," Jabour, a member of the commerce committee, said in a statement.

The commission will continue looking at how electricity is procured to see if the model should change, given the volatility of the current market, and it's working with other agencies on ways to cooperate with other states to improve the transmission infrastructure, Kogut said. The goal is to address costs, price instability and reliability issues.