Thursday, November 06, 2008

PSC Hears Public Opposition to National Grid’s Proposed 33% Natural Gas Delivery Rate Increase

Final PSC Public Statement Hearing in Schodack December 10
As part of its proceeding to examine new rates filed by National Grid which, if approved as filed, would raise the delivery rates for natural gas in its Niagara Mohawk service territory by 33%, the Public Service Commission (PSC) scheduled four public statement hearings, two in Syracuse, one in Schenectady, and one in Schodack. Under Section 66(12) of the Public Service Law, a major change in utility rates (more than 2.5%) cannot occur without public notice and a hearing. The evidentiary trial-type hearings will occur in December. As part of the process, the PSC also schedules public statement hearings.

The next and final public statement hearing on the proposed natural gas delivery rate increase is scheduled for 6 pm on Monday, November 10th at Schodack Town Hall in Castleton.

A sizable crowd filled the Syracuse venues on October 30th, with many people seeking to testify against the proposed increase before a PSC Administrative Law Judge. One of the organizations, Syracuse United Neighbors (“SUN”), told the judge that “[t]he end result of these increases will be unbearable for the poorest of New Yorkers, as incomes for low income families are only increasing by one percent a year. The result will be an even poorer community, as families juggle heat, housing, food, medicine, and health care bills -- all of which are increasing rapidly.” SUN is a neighborhood organization whose members are residents of low income neighborhoods on the south, southwest, and near west sides of the city of Syracuse. For over 30 years, SUN has fought to improve neighborhoods and helped residents with issues such as safe and affordable housing, reducing street crime, and maintaining quality city services. Even with a proposed $5 per month low income discount, SUN noted, poor families would see their rates go up by 22 percent.

SUN requested that the Commission:

(1) Deny the rate increase to National Grid.

(2) Require National Grid to offer its low income upstate NY customers the same sort of discount it offers to its customers in metropolitan Boston -- a rate reduction of 26 percent.

(3) Extend the same sort of innovative case management and arrearage forgiveness program (“On Track”) it continues to run for its former KeySpan customers in Brooklyn, parts of Long Island, and Massachusetts, which avoids termination of service to customers with payment problems.

(4) Create a performance incentive that would incent National Grid to reduce the incidence of deliberate service shut offs as a collection tactic, similar to the program to reduce outages due to physical system failures.

At the Schenectady hearing on October 30th, the New York State Community Action Association (“NYSCAA”) testified. NYSCAA's Executive Director testified that this is not the time for an increase in the energy burden of low income families, especially when the basic welfare grant has not grown in 18 years and terminations for non-payment have grown even at the lower rates currently charged. NYSCAA urged the Commission to deny the requested rate increase to protect low income customers and those families who must choose between food and paying heating bills. The group noted that:

(1) The proposed increases will make it impossible for many low income customers to pay their bills, even with the $5 discount proposed by National Grid, as the proposed increase does not include the increases in the price of the fuel.

(2) The increases will result in a jump in terminations, leading to homelessness, candle fires, and possibly people freezing to death.

(3) National Grid’s proposals will do nothing to reduce consumption as funding for energy efficiency measures were removed from the proceeding by the PSC.

PULP is representing SUN and NYSCAA in the case.

Lou Manuta

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