Eversource's argument that because it has improved some of its services it should be allowed to hit residential customers with an increase of about $11 on an average monthly bill isn't impressing Attorney General Maura Healey and it shouldn't impress consumers either.
The utility, which serves much of Berkshire County, has filed a request for an increase of about $96 million on rates for residents and businesses to the state Department of Public Utilities (Eagle, January 18). In a press release defending the request, Eversource explained that it has and will invest in technological upgrades to better serve customers.
Like customers of any utility, customers of Eversource expect the utility to make upgrades to keep it competitive, and they should not expect to essentially foot the bill for these upgrades through substantial price increases. This is especially the case when, as the attorney general points out, is in the process pursuing 10.5 percent shareholder profits through its rate increase. From 2010 to 2015, Ms. Healey continues in a press release, Eversource shareholders of common stock received an 89 percent return while ratepayers paid higher distribution rates than did customers of competitor National Grid. The attorney general concluded that Eversource should be returning profits to customers rather than raising rates.
In December, Ms. Healey asked the DPU to investigate why the allowed profits for Massachusetts utilities are higher than those in neighboring states. This was based on a rate increase awarded to National Grid. That investigation and the publicizing of its results should take place before any utility price hikes are approved.
Electricity prices in the Berkshires and Massachusetts are relatively high for a variety of reasons, some of which come down to geography. Anything that would boost those costs, such as a substantial increase in rates, should be looked at skeptically. The attorney general's skepticism about the Eversource request is merited and the state Department of Public Utilities should reject it and explore the profit system related to utilities in the state.
The Berkshire Eagle