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Utility regulators down request to spread the impact of electric rate hikes

Massachusetts utility regulators have rejected a request by the attorney general’s office to spread the impact of high winter electricity bills over a full year.

In a ruling posted Thursday, the Department of Public Utilities said a proposal by Attorney General Martha Coakley to recalculate winter electricity rates proposed by National Grid was “not in the public interest.” Coakley asked the DPU to take action after National Grid announced that residential electricity rates would hit unprecedented highs during the winter.

“Recalculating National Grid’s basic service rate might have unintended consequences,” the ruling said. The attorney general’s proposals, it added, “would disrupt the competitive market, might result in higher [prices] in the future . . . and would be contrary to Department precedent.”


A spokeswoman for Coakley expressed concern for consumers and urged companies to educate consumers about ways to reduce their bills.

“While we understand the DPU’s decision, we remain very concerned about this sharp increase in electricity bills,” said the spokeswoman, Jillian Fennimore. “It is critical that we continue to examine additional solutions to alleviate this burden on ratepayers.”

Electricity rates for households that buy their electricity through National Grid’s “basic service” option will be 37 percent higher this winter and the average household’s electric bill could top $150 per month. The winter billing period for National Grid customers runs from November through April.

After the state utility regulator approved the rates, which reflected higher costs faced by electricity generators, Coakley asked the DPU to investigate “ways to mitigate the dramatic rate increases” facing National Grid customers.

During the investigation, several utility companies and consumer advocates sent letters to the utility regulator, but only one explicitly supported the attorney general’s proposal to spread the winter rate increase over twelve months.

National Grid and other utilities offer programs to help customers reduce the impact of high electricity bills. Thursday’s ruling also instructed utilities “to continue their ramped-up efforts to educate customers” about ways to reduce their bills and evaluate competitive electricity suppliers.


Jack Newsham can be reached at jack.newsham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheNewsHam.