To the editor:
Berkshire Democratic Brigades wants to thank Attorney General Maura Healey and everyone who gathered last Monday in Pittsfield to oppose Eversource's electric rate hike proposal.
If the Department of Public Utilities approves it — or anything close to it — the decline of the economy of Berkshire County and all of Western Mass. will accelerate, falling even further behind that of Eastern Mass. As state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli told the audience, in Berkshire County "We are smaller, we are older, we are sicker and we are poorer," and an electric rate hike of this magnitude will only exacerbate the situation.
Very simply, our problems with Eversource's rate hike fall into three categories: revenue and shareholder returns; investments in grid modernization; and rate design.
As AG Healey notes in her DPU testimony, "From 2011-2014, WMECO's average return on equity was over 10 percent and NSTAR's was close to 11 percent — very high profits given today's historically low interest rates. In 2015, NSTAR reported a return on equity of over 13 percent. Last year, no state public utility commission in the country allowed a return that high." Additionally, Healey noted, "In 2016 the average allowed return on equity in the country for electric distribution companies was 9.3 percent. In our neighboring states, it was even less, with Connecticut and Maine allowing ROEs of only 9.1 percent and 9 percent, respectively." Each 1 percent reduction will save Mass. customers $28 million per year.
Yet even having been overpaid compared to our New England neighbors, Eversource has not shown that it has met the DPU's 2014 demands to modernize the grid by: a) reducing the effects of outages; b) optimizing demand, including reducing system and customer costs; c) integrating distributed resources; or d) improving workforce and asset management.
Putting this all together, we can see how absolutely blind Eversource is, not only to its Western Mass. customers' needs, but also its own long-term interests. As Healey has said: "This is an important opportunity for the [DPU] to reset the balance between company profits and customer rates." A progressive, forward-looking utility would work with us to build our economy, not destroy it. While Boston surges, Berkshire County teeters on the brink, and higher electricity prices could push us over the edge.
The writers are all members of Berkshire Democratic Brigades.