Healey calls National Grid rate hike ‘devastating’

Several options to ease spike are available to consumers

A correction has been added to this story.

A SPOKESWOMAN for Attorney General Maura Healey, who represents ratepayers in proceedings before utility regulators, warned that National Grid’s electricity rate hike will be “devastating for hundreds of thousands of customers in Massachusetts who simply cannot afford it.”

In a statement, Healey spokeswoman Chloe Gotsis urged the Department of Public Utilities to find ways to lessen the impact of the rate hike and pledged to explore all possible options to help customers pay their bills this winter.

But it’s not clear what can be done to address the runup in prices because the rate hike is caused by national and international market conditions over which Healey and state regulators have little control.

National Grid announced on Wednesday that its basic service rate – the price it charges customers who direct the utility to procure electricity on their behalf – would rise from 14.8 cents a kilowatt hour last winter to 33.9 cents this winter, largely because of a runup in natural gas prices in the wake of the war in Ukraine.

National Grid receives no markup for procuring the electricity on behalf of customers; the cost is simply passed through to consumers.

The supply cost of electricity is just one part of a customer utility bill, which also includes delivery, transmission, and governmental charges. The overall typical National Grid monthly bill is expected to rise from $179 to $293 a month starting November 1, an increase of 64 percent.

The attorney general does have some leverage on the prices utilities charge for distribution and transmission. Her office pointed out that in proceedings before the Department of Public Utilities the attorney general succeeded in shaving $400 million off of National Grid’s rate request in 2018.

The next rate case will not be heard until next year, after Healey, who is running for governor, leaves office.

Helen Burt, National Grid’s chief customer service officer, urged customers to reduce their electricity usage, enroll in payment plans, and take advantage of financial assistance programs if they qualify.

Healey made similar recommendations this summer when Eversource raised its basic service rate to 17.87 cents per kilowatt hour for the six-month period starting July 1. The new rate was 30 percent higher than the previous year’s rate.

One area where Burt and Healey differed was on shopping around for the best electricity prices. Burt suggested customers could shop among competitive suppliers  for the best deal on electricity, but Healey thinks that’s a bad idea.

“Switching to a competitive supplier creates more problems than it solves,” said Gotsis, Healey’s spokeswoman. “Our research continues to show that vulnerable residents across our state are losing millions of dollars to these companies each year. We continue to urge customers to beware of deceptive suppliers taking advantage of these record high winter rates by promising cheaper electricity, only to stick them with higher rates and a contract they can’t get out of.”

Healey has urged the Legislature to shut down competitive suppliers who target individual residential customers, but so far the Legislature has not acted on her request. (Clarification: Healey’s proposal would not apply to commercial and industrial customers who purchase electricity or to municipalities that purchase on behalf of their residents.)

Like a number of municipalities in Massachusetts, the city of Boston oversees an electricity purchase program on behalf of its residents. In December last year, the city offered residents three purchase options with rates ranging from a low of 10.7 cents per kilowatt hour to a high of 13.8 cents, with the highest cost tied to 100 percent renewable energy. Those rates, which provide considerable savings, remain in effect through the end of 2023. {CORRECTION: The original version off the story said the Boston rates will remain in effect through the end of the year. Actually, they will remain in place until the end of 2023.]