National Grid request would hike average electric bill by 2.6 percent

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The English company that supplies electricity to 17 Berkshire County communities will spend the next year explaining why it needs to raise its rates.

National Grid has filed a request with the state Department of Public Utilities to charge residential and commercial customers more starting Nov. 1, 2019.

To secure that increase, the company, still known legally as the Massachusetts Electric Co., must withstand a challenge by the Attorney General's Office and other consumer groups.

If approved as filed, the new rates would increase costs by $4.07 a month for the average residential customer using 600 kilowatt hours of electricity, according to the company's own estimates.

For commercial and industrial users, rates would rise by 0.6 to 4.4 percent, according to the filing.

The request comes roughly two years after Eversource, which serves 209,000 customers throughout Western Massachusetts, sought $34.7 million in rate increases in the region. The request came under fire from both residential and commercial customers. In the end, the DPU cut Eversource's request by 30 percent.

National Grid's last rate increase was granted in 2016.

The company serves all or part of the following Berkshires communities: Adams, Alford, Cheshire, Clarksburg, Egremont, Florida, Great Barrington, Hancock, Lenox, Monterey, Mount Washington, New Marlborough, North Adams, Sheffield, Stockbridge, West Stockbridge and Williamstown.

Customers will get a chance to comment in person on the proposed rate increases, but not until spring. The DPU will hold a public hearing in Great Barrington at 7 p.m. April 9 in the meeting room of the town's fire station at 37 State Road.

In all, the National Grid increase seeks $132.2 million in new revenue. But in its Nov. 15 filing with the DPU, the utility claims that the net increase would be $70.3 million, after subtracting $61.9 million in decreased revenues in areas outside of its base distribution rates.

For low-income customers, the new rate would actually lower monthly bills by $1.62, the utility says in its filing.

In an interview with equities analysts Nov. 8, John Pettigrew, National Grid's CEO, said the company expected to benefit from "new U.S. rates" in the coming months. After using that call to review his company's performance in England, Europe and the U.S., Pettigrew indicated optimism.

"So as you can see it's been a solid first six months of financial performance," he said.

Joseph W. Rogers, an assistant attorney general, has filed the first of his office's demands for information that would justify a rate increase. National Grid's responses are trickling in and can be viewed by the public through the DPU's online portal, using docket number 18-150.

The portal can be reached by visiting eeaonline.eea.state.ma.us/DPU/Fileroom/.

Written comments on the National Grid request can be filed with the DPU until 5 p.m. April 9. They should be mailed to Mark D. Marini, secretary, Department of Public Utilities, One South Station, Boston, MA 02110.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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