BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW-TV) — The New York Public Service Commission (PSC) began hearings on a request by National Grid to increase rates starting in July 2021 to cover expenses with electric and gas delivery. The utility company is seeking an increase of $100.4 million for electric delivery revenues and $41.8 in natural gas delivery revenues.
Normally, before the pandemic, the PSC would hold hearings in-person. But with COVID-19 protocols in place, the PSC is using a virtual hearing format, through the internet and phone, that allows participants to speak if they pre-register.
Hearings on the rate increase proposal will continue this week and next; Sept 30 at 6 p.m., October 1 at 1 and 6 p.m., October 6 at 1 and 6 p.m., and October 7 at 1 and 6 p.m.
Several groups plan to make their opposition heard during the virtual hearings.
Their message is twofold; a pandemic is no time to raise utility rates, and National Grid needs to do more to address climate change and follow New York State's "Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act."
The groups said the rate increase could raise the average gas and electric bills by almost $100 a year.
“Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, over half of residential tenants in Buffalo were already spending more than 30% of their household income on housing costs, including rent and utilities. The unemployment rate in the city was over 16% in August. The pandemic has left thousands of residents in dire economic straits. We demand a just recovery. National Grid’s attempt to push through a rate hike while continuing to pay out billions of dollars to executives and investors is the exact opposite of what our communities need and deserve at this time,” said Clarke Gocker, Director of Policy and Strategy at PUSH Buffalo.
The groups in opposition are also concerned that the utility is planning to invest $41.8 million dollars in maintaining and expanding its natural gas distribution system.
“We are very concerned about the rate increase suggested by National Grid. We are concerned about their request to build additional fossil fuel infrastructure when the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) mandates a decrease in fossil fuel use,” said Becky Meier of the group Stop NY Fracked Gas Pipeline.
NATIONAL GRID RESPONSE:
National Grid spokesperson, Dave Bertola, told 7 Eyewitness News Reporter Ed Reilly that the power company's current rates will be expiring. It is an 11-month process to get approval for new rates, which is why the company has started the process now for July 2021.
The additional money, explained Bertola, will be used to improve service, update technology, and enable the switch-over to more electric vehicles and 'smart meters.'
In addition, the revenues will allow National Grid to continue its practice of giving community development grants which have total $27 million dollars over a 7-year period, added Bertola.
HELP FOR STRUGGLING CUSTOMERS
National Grid is also asking the PSC for permission to provide up to $50 million to help individuals and companies affected by COVID-19. Half of the money ($25 million) will be used to help low-income customers enrolled in the Energy Assistance Program with immediate bill credits and up to 12 monthly arrears incentive payments.
For business customers hurt by the pandemic, $20 million will be used for arrears incentive payments.
The remaining $5 million will be allocated in COVID-19 recovery assistance grants for commercial, industrial and small business customers.
HOW TO SUBMIT YOUR COMMENTS TO THE PSC ON THE RATE HIKES (Information from the PSC):
For those who cannot attend or prefer not to speak at a public statement hearing, there are several other ways to provide your comments to the Commission.
Comments should refer to “Case 20-E-0380 and Case 20-G-0381 – Niagara Mohawk.”
Although comments will be accepted throughout the pendency of this proceeding, they are requested by October 16, 2020.
Internet or Mail: Go to www.dps.ny.gov, click on “Search” and enter case number 20-E-0380 or 20-G-0381 in the “Search by Case Number” field, and then click on “Post Comments” located at the top right of the page; or send comments by email to the Secretary at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternatively, comments may be mailed to Hon. Michelle L. Phillips, Secretary, Public Service Commission, Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York 12223-1350.1
All written comments will become part of the record considered by the Commission and may be accessed on the Department of Public Service website by searching the case number, as described above, and clicking on the “Public Comments” tab.
Toll-Free Opinion Line: Individuals may choose to submit comments by calling the Commission’s Opinion Line at 1- 800-335-2120. This number is set up to receive in-state calls 24-hours a day. These calls are not transcribed verbatim, but a summary is provided to the Commission.
IF YOU WISH TO SPEAK DURING THE VIRTUAL PUBLIC HEARINGS:
Those wishing to comment on any aspect of these proceedings will have the opportunity to make a statement on the record at the virtual public statement hearings.
Any person wishing to provide a public statement must register in advance of the hearing.
To register electronically: Participants who would like to provide a statement and will login to a hearing electronically may register to do so by visiting www.webex.com by 4:30 P.M. Monday, September 28, 2020, for the September 30 and October 1 hearings and 4:30 P.M. Monday, October 5, 2020, for the October 6 and 7 hearings.
From the Webex homepage, registrants should click “Join” at the top right-hand corner of the screen, enter the appropriate event number listed above, and provide all requested information.
When logging in to a hearing on the appropriate date and time of the hearing, participants should visit www.webex.com, click “Join” at the top right-hand corner of the screen, and input the appropriate event number for the hearing.
Participants will be asked to “select audio system.” It is recommended that participants opt to have the system “call me” or “call using computer.”
The “call me” option will require participants to enter their phone numbers.
To register by phone: Any participant who is not able to login to a hearing electronically may participate by phone.
Call-in participants wishing to make a statement at the hearing must register to do so by the dates indicated above by calling CASES 20-E-0380 and 20-G-0381 -5- 1-800-342-3330, where they should follow prompts to the appropriate hearing and provide the following information: first and last name, address, and phone number.
On the appropriate day and time of the hearing, dial (518)549-0500 and enter the relevant access code listed above to join the hearing.
All participants will be muted upon entry into the hearing. The ALJs will call on each person who has registered to speak. The ALJs will continue the hearing until everyone wishing to speak has been heard or other reasonable arrangements have been made to include their comments in the record.
Time limits may be set for each speaker as necessary to afford all attendees an opportunity to be heard. It is recommended that lengthy comments be submitted in writing and summarized for oral presentation.
A verbatim transcript of the hearing will be made for inclusion in the record of these cases. To listen to the hearing: Any person who would like to listen to the hearing but would not like to make a statement may access the hearing without registering.
The hearings will be livestreamed on the internet and available for viewing on the Department of Public Service’s YouTube channel on the dates and times listed above.
To access the YouTube channel, visit the Department’s website, www.dps.ny.gov, and click on the YouTube icon at the bottom of the homepage.
In addition, any person without internet access may listen to the hearings by phone by calling (518)549-0500 and entering the applicable access code.
Persons with disabilities requiring special accommodations should call the Department of Public Service’s Human Resources Management Office at (518) 474-2520 as soon as possible.
TDD users may request a sign language interpreter by placing a call through the New York Relay Service at 711. Individuals with difficulty understanding or reading English are CASES 20-E-0380 and 20-G-0381 -6- encouraged to call the Department at 1-800-342-3377 for free language assistance services regarding this notice.