BUFFALO, N.Y.(WIVB)- National Fuel bills could go up in April 2017 if a 7.9 percent rate hike is approved. The company submitted the proposal to the NYS Public Service Commission in April.
PUSH Buffalo told News 4 hundreds of people have signed a petition against it.
“People that are going to be paying the most during this hike are in the urban areas,” said Christian Parra, a community organizer with PUSH Buffalo.
National Fuel wants to increase its natural gas delivery revenue by $41.7 million to help pay for pipeline upgrades, improvements to customer information technology, and expanding services to rural communities and adding money to low income customer programs.
“Chances are your pipelines that are under your houses are as old, or older, than the house you live in,” said Karen Merkel, a National Fuel spokesperson. “It’s important to modernize them for safety as well as reliability of natural gas service.”
Merkel said the increase will translate to about a $5.75 hike on the average customer’s bill.
PUSH Buffalo argues the cost will be higher for customers who are already struggling.
“There’s a lot of houses in Buffalo that are not weatherized so the houses that are actually going to be paying more towards this hike are houses in low income communities,” said Parra.
He estimates low income customers will pay closer to an extra $10 or $20 per month.
“Which could be a new pair of sneakers or could be food for somebody’s family,” he said.
Merkel told News 4 they averaged low-income bills, and added a 50 percent increase in usage, and came up with a bill total of $956.86. They subtracted HEAP and other assistance available and generated a total annual bill of $112.86.
“We understand that there are parts of our customer base that are payment challenged but we also know there are numerous financial assistance programs available to them,” said Merkel.
National Fuel is also proposing a 15% increase in the delivery rate but Merkel said customers won’t see that in their bills. Merkel told News 4 the rate increase can’t wait.
“With added pressure from our state regulators in needing to continually invest in our pipelines to modernize them, we fell it’s time we have to do this,” said Merkel.
PUSH Buffalo told News 4 it wants to see National Fuel invest in geothermal and solar energy, instead of raising rates to pay for gas pipeline improvements. The organization said investing in renewable resources would also create jobs.
The NYS Public Service Commission is holding a public hearing on the rate hike on Wednesday, October 26 at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library Central Branch at Lafayette Sq. There will be a session at 3:00 p.m. and another session at 6:00 p.m.