In shift, Eversource backs W. Mass. rate relief
Utility calls last-minute changes in $96m proposal response to public feedback
EVERSOURCE IS PROPOSING significant changes to a $96 million rate hike request that would have the effect of lowering bills for customers in western Massachusetts and raising them for customers in eastern Massachusetts.
The utility hasn’t detailed the changes yet, but the company has told state regulators it wants to alter the way it would collect the $96 million in response to a torrent of criticism leveled at its original proposal at hearings around the state.
“We’re making changes to the rate design based on the feedback we received at the 10 public hearings conducted throughout the state in March and April,” said Eversource spokesman Michael Durand in an email. “The revised cost allocations will make a significant difference for many customers in the west, lowering bill impacts by a substantial margin.”
In its original proposal, which was filed in January, Eversource said it needed to recover through rate hikes a $60 million deficiency in its eastern Massachusetts distribution rates and a $35.7 million shortfall in its western Massachusetts rates. But because western Massachusetts is less populated than eastern Massachusetts, the impact would be much greater out west, with the typical monthly bill rising 10 percent to $126.52. The typical monthly bill in eastern Massachusetts under the original proposal would go up 7 percent to $129.43.
Attorney General Maura Healey’s office filed a letter with the Department of Public Utilities objecting to Eversource’s last-minute proposal, which comes more than five months after the initial rate filing, just days before the start of hearings on that filing, and nearly a week after the deadline for submission of testimony.
“Such a proposal will impact every single WMECo and NStar residential customer, and will necessarily result in one company’s customers subsidizing the other companies’ customers,” said the letter.Healey’s office took no stance in the letter on what Eversource was proposing, just the timing of it. The attorney general, however, has been very vocal in her opposition to Eversource’s overall rate request, particularly the company’s push for a 10.5 percent return on equity. She has urged the company to reduce its proposed rate hikes by lowering its profit margins.
Eversource is expected to propose a number of other changes to its original rate hike request, but details were limited. Like Healey, the University of Massachusetts submitted a letter to the DPU raising concerns about the lack of time to review and evaluate Eversource’s proposal. “UMass has concerns that the new proposal could exacerbate the rate impacts its campuses are already facing,” the letter said.