Eversource Energy's rate hike request would be punishing for the Berkshires if approved. Beyond this specific issue, however, the request provides an example of the imbalance between Eastern and Western Massachusetts interests that penalizes the economically challenged western region.
These related issues were discussed by state Senator Adam Hinds, a Pittsfield Democrat, during an editorial board meeting at The Eagle on Tuesday (Eagle, March 8). In describing the proposed hike as "an absolute potential killer," the senator pointed out how Eversource's proposed 10 percent increase is actually weighted against Western Massachusetts.
Eversource says its will raise $60 million in rate revenue from the eastern end of the state and $35 million from the west, which on the surface appears to strike a fair balance. But as Mr. Hinds observed Tuesday, Eversource would be raising that $60 million from 1.2 million customers in the heavily populated section of the state and $35 million from just 215,000 customers in the west, which is, as the senator said, "uacceptable." Attorney General Maura Healey, who has urged the state Public Utility Commission to reject the requested hike, which if approved would begin next January, says the hike would add $11.64 to the bill of an average customer in Western Massachusetts and $8.45 to the bill of an average customer in Eastern Massachusetts.
The rollout of high-speed broadband service in the state is another example of this divide. U.S. News & World Report, in its recent ranking of states, gave Massachusetts the highest ranking for Internet service in the country, and we have no doubt that broadband connections are state-of-the-art inside the Route 128 belt. Boston and vicinity, with wealthy towns and many influential businesses and universities, have advantages the rural hill towns of Western Massachusetts that comprise much of Mr. Hinds' sprawling district do not. The senator observed that reliable broadband service is critical to the ability of these communities to build their economics and keep and attract young residents.
In urging rejection of Eversource's rate hike request, the state senator added that continued expansion of green energy is necessary in Massachusetts to lower prices by expanding the energy grid. Senator Hinds praised the Massachusetts Broadband Institute for pushing the stalled broadband expansion forward in recent months by providing more flexibility to towns in setting up their broadband systems, but he also pointed out the obvious — the state must increase funding through the MBI to small towns that can't build Internet connections without it.
Taking on the east-wide imbalance is an ongoing task for the Berkshires' legislative delegation that is at the foundation of many of the individual issues the delegation confronts (state funding for tourism is another example beyond energy costs and broadband). It's a battle for not only the region's fair share but to assure the region is not burdened with an unfair share.