Hinds opposes Eversource rate hike request
In a meeting with The Eagle's editorial board, the Pittsfield Democrat said the requested rate hike, which could raise electric bills for Eversource's Western Massachusetts customers by 10 percent next year, exposes the "deep concern of inequality" between the eastern and western parts of the state.
"You're going to hear a lot more from me on this," said Hinds, referring to state energy costs in general.
Referring specifically to Eversource's most recent request, which the utility announced in January, Hinds said, "We've seen this movie before 10 years ago — rate increases in the range of 55 percent for big commercial and industrial companies. We saw three paper mills (in the Berkshires) go out of business resulting in 400 jobs lost."
The $96 million increase, which would affect Eversource's residential, commercial and industrial customers, will be considered by the state Department of Public Utilities. If approved, it would not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2018.
Hinds isn't the only elected official who has spoken out against the increase. Attorney General Maura Healey also has vowed to challenge the measure. It would add $11.64 to the average monthly bill for Western Massachusetts customers and $8.45 for customers in Eastern Massachusetts.
That discrepancy in how the increase would affect customers in different regions of the state provides "a glimpse" into the differences between the eastern and western parts of Massachusetts, Hinds said.
"It's saying that we'll raise $60 million from the eastern part of our districts and $35 million from our western customers," Hinds said. "The problem is they're raising $60 million from 1.2 million customers and $35 million from 215,000."
"This is absolutely unacceptable," Hinds said. "We're going to be mobilizing around this, especially working with the Attorney General's Office, which is advocating for ratepayers. It speaks to this deep concern of inequality within the state."
Another example of this regional discrepancy exists in the final rollout of access to high-speed broadband service, which continues to lag behind the rest of the state in Western Massachusetts — including parts of Berkshire County.
"It doesn't take long to look at the internet process and how we've now gone far too long in saying, 'OK. it's all right if part of our state doesn't have the ability to keep up with the economy, let alone in the region,' "Hinds said.
Several funding options are currently being presented to Berkshire County municipalities that don't have access to high-speed broadband, but Hinds said the issue shouldn't come down to which towns can afford to pay for the service and which towns can't.
"This is critical stuff," he said.
Hinds said he was pleased with the Massachusetts Broadband Institute's decision to provide enhanced chances to those who still want internet service by providing millions of dollars that were slated for "professional services" in the form of direct grants to towns who want to build and own their own systems. But he said the MBI's gesture won't completely resolve the issue.
"We still have a problem, even in that scenario, with several towns that wouldn't be able to afford that," Hinds said. "So I think more money is needed, and I think we need to accelerate the process so we don't miss out on the construction season."
Reach Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski at (413) 496-6224.
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