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Mass. DPU Will Decide On Eversource's Proposed Rate Hike

JD Allen
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer announcing the city's Community Choice Power Supply Program intiative to work around current electricity supplier, Eversource.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities is set to announce its decision on Eversource’s electricity rate hike by the end of today. 

Eversource spokeswoman Priscilla Ress says the decision on the utility company’s proposal to raise electricity rates is coming any time. Eversource is seeking to hike distribution rates $96 million in January 2018, and $50 million annually for four years starting in 2019.

“Regarding the rate review that began earlier this year, we anticipate the DPU will be ruling on the overall increase that they’ll allow us by the end of the day today, and then ruling on how we are going to allocate the new rates across all of our Massachusetts customers by the end of December,” Ress says.

Ress says the rate hike will cover existing expenses like upgrading the region’s electric grid and various renewable energy initiatives.

Opponents say the hike unfairly burdens residents and businesses in Berkshire County, who would pay more than one-third of the overall rate increase – $36 million in 2018. Average customers would pay roughly $150 more a year.

In a June filing, Eversource reduced the share Western Massachusetts would pay. The rate increase would be more evenly shared between Eversource subsidiary NSTAR, which serves 1.2 million customers in the east, and subsidiary Western Massachusetts Electric Company, which serves 209,000.

Customers could pay between 3 and 11 percent more next year for electricity distribution. Ress says she understands that some municipalities, including Pittsfield – the largest city in Berkshire County – are seeking other energy suppliers to offset the potential financial burden.

“Customers should always consider all competitive supply offers that are available to them, and we always recommend that they closely consider all aspects of an agreement before making the switch and choose the option that best meets their own particular situation,” Ress says.

Residents and businesses began to get mailers this week stamped with the city seal about Pittsfield’s Community Choice Power Supply Program. Under the new initiative, customers will be automatically locked into a fixed rate of just under 10 cents per kilowatt-hour for the next three years from a new energy supplier, NextEra Energy Services.

At Tuesday night’s city council meeting, some residents, like Terry McKinnis, spoke up in opposition.

“That notice or information was never signed off by anyone. It just said from the Office of the Mayor. There is no name on there to contact or anything else,” McKinnis says. “And for the city to sign people up automatically for a new energy proposal, not a way to do anything. I know people that have thrown it away because it looked like junk mail, and the way it was set up it looked like junk mail.”

“It’s not a scam,” Jim McGrath says. “This is a legitimate program where the city has taken on a leadership role by combining the purchasing power, the electric load of the city for a favorable rate.”

Pittsfield’s Park, Open Space and Natural Resource Program Manager Jim McGrath spoke earlier that day at the program’s announcement.

“Our obligation is for 36 months and we are under no obligation to re-up,” McGrath says. “So we have choice, as well as the consumer.”

City consumers can choose to opt out at no cost. For instance, McGrath says Pittsfield will opt out and probably stay with Eversource to power its streetlights.

Mark Cappadona, of Capitol Power Group, which helped the city nail down the deal, says participating residents and businesses are expected to see a combined average savings of 13 percent.

“There is a thing called capacity that’s going to cause rates to rise over the next year. Starts next June for everyone here in WCMA – that’s Western Central Mass loadzone,” Cappadona says. “And that will keep costs booing.”

Mayor Linda Tyer says the program is a safeguard against possible electricity rate hikes through Eversource.

“And we are slammed with a significant increase in distribution rates at the very least we have – at very least some control over the supply cost with this program,” Tyer says.

The city would pay $736,000 more next year under Eversource’s proposed distribution rate hike.

Under the new electricity supply program, 5 percent of the city's energy supply uses renewable energy credits, or about 25 percent more solar energy than the state minimum.

“With this program, it lowers the burden of energy cost for everyone,” Tyer says.

The plan in Pittsfield works because the city is a municipal aggregator. Twelve other Berkshire County communities are already involved under a similar umbrella agreement.

After an initial information session Thursday, another is planned for 6 p.m. December 6th at the Berkshire Athenaeum. 

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