BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- Dozens of protestors outside a Public Service Commission hearing Tuesday night pushed back against a proposed National Grid rate hike.
The utility company proposes raising customers’ bills by about $9 a month for the average customer. It would be tacked onto the rate customers pay per kilowatt hour. It will go into effect April 1, 2018 if it’s approved.
“A rate increase will mean the difference between keeping electricity on or having it shut off,” said Rev. Kirk Laubenstein, the executive director of the Coalition for Economic Justice.
Laubenstein said the increase will hit the elderly and low wage workers the hardest.
“A rate increase would mean, for a lot of them, devastation,” he said.
National Grid Spokesperson Steve Brady told News 4 the rate increase will help fix and upgrade aging equipment and infrastructure, some of which is 60 years old.
He said in the past decade technology has evolved.
“It’s changed at a pace we have not seen in the last 100 years,” said Brady.
Demands on the system have also increased as businesses continue to open in Western New York. According to Brady, the upgrades are particularly essential in the manufacturing realm.
“A minor outage might not even affect their operations 10 or 15 years ago,” said Brady. “Now even just the slightest blip in the quality of the power coming in can basically shut down production for many of these large manufacturers and we need to be able to address that.”
Representatives from the Amherst Chamber of Commerce, Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and Invest Buffalo Niagara were among half a dozen groups that spoke up at the hearings in support of the rate hike.
“These investments will improve reliability, and power quality, and provide businesses the opportunity to grow and prosper,” said Colleen DiPirro, President of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce.
The Public Service Commission told News 4 about 30 people spoke during the afternoon and evening sessions.
Buffalo resident Colleen Kristich attended to voice her concerns, particularly in regards to people who live in the city.
“A lot of people are living on Social Security or they just have low paying jobs and they’ve already cut back and are not able to pay their rent, or already are getting shut off,” she said. “It’s kind of ridiculous to me they want to ask for even more money.”
She hopes the Public Service Commission will prevent the rate hike.
“I understand they need to update some things but I don’t think that should come on the backs of the people who live here, who can’t afford it,” said Kristich. “I hope the Public Service Commission does its job and regulates National Grid like they’re supposed to because we don’t have an alternative, they’re the only place we can get our electricity.”
To accommodate the burden on low income customers, National Grid has asked the Commission to approve increasing its affordability program fund by about $50 million dollars. Brady said that will cover an additional 55,000 customers and some customers currently on the program could actually see their bills go down.
The 11 month process is still in the early stages.
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