PROVIDENCE — Governor Dan McKee is urging the state utilities agency tasked with approving rate increases to provide some relief to Rhode Islanders ahead of this winter’s expected rate hike.
In late July, Rhode Island Energy, which provides electricity services to more than 780,000 customers across the state, filed fall rates with state regulators which would increase prices by 47 percent as of Oct. 1.
McKee filed a public comment to the Public Utilities Commission on Monday to take specific action to provide relief to Rhode Islanders.
“An increase of this magnitude has a potentially devastating impact on residential ratepayers, particularly our most vulnerable populations, including low-income, the elderly and seriously ill individuals,” McKee wrote.
In his letter, which was obtained by Globe Rhode Island, the governor asked the commission to moderate the impact on ratepayers by spreading the higher rates over a 12-month period, consider deferring a fixed amount on the delivery side of the electric bill, and to suspend the customer charge on residential electric bills until next summer when “electricity prices are projected to decline significantly.”
Suspending the customer charge would result in a fixed, monthly decrease of $6, according to the letter.
The newly proposed rate for residential customers, which would go into effect on Oct. 1 and last through March 31, 2023, is nearly 18 cents per kilowatt hour, up from about 11 cents per kilowatt hour in fall 2021.
Electricity customers across the country are facing mounting costs due to inflation and the rise in natural-gas prices. Natural gas is predominantly used throughout New England for electricity generation and heating. The price of natural gas usually climbs during the winter, because of increased demand. But the United States is also experiencing a global supply shortage made worse by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Rhode Island Energy, which is part which is part of Pennsylvania-based PPL Corporation, received a green light from Rhode Island Superior Court in May to acquire the Narragansett Electric Company from National Grid USA following a settlement agreement between PPL Corp. and the Rhode Island attorney general’s office.
The settlement required PPL to not seek any base rate increases for “at least three years” after the transaction closed. PPL also agreed to provide $50 million in bill credits to Narragansett Electric customers — both gas and electric. In his letter, McKee asked the commission to distribute $32.5 million of those credits back to ratepayers over a six-month period that coincides with this coming winter when electric rates will be elevated.
Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Neronha filed a motion on July 21 on the proposed rate increases, according to spokesman Brian Hodge. Hodge told the Globe on Monday that the environmental and energy unit within the attorney general’s office is “prepared to scrutinize every aspect” of this rate increase request.
A source close to the governor told the Globe his office is working on debuting a program sometime early next week that would provide more relief that is under the governor’s purview. This program would have a particular focus on Rhode Island’s most vulnerable populations.
This story has been updated with comments from the attorney general’s office.