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National Grid delivery rate hike plan criticized at hearings

Thomas Gallagher, of East Meadow, said at a

Thomas Gallagher, of East Meadow, said at a public hearing Tuesday, July 26, 2016, the National Grid rate hike plan could lead to a negative rippling effect. Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

National Grid’s proposed 24 percent delivery rate hike got sharply critical reviews from a handful of witnesses at hearings this week, with most denouncing the increase as unaffordable.

The public hearings Tuesday and Wednesday came as National Grid and the state are engaged in settlement talks in the case. National Grid is seeking $146 million in delivery rate increases, plus $33 million in new annual toxic-site remediation surcharges.

In materials released at this week’s hearings, the state Department of Public Service said ratepayers who use 83 therms of gas per month would see an average annual increase of $198, or about $16.50 a month. The documents did not address the increase in remediation surcharges.

The few ratepayers who spoke about the delivery hike said Long Islanders can’t afford the increase. Some were neutral on the increase but expressed concerns about changes in energy efficiency and low-income programs.

Rachel Burd, a coordinator for the Public Utility Law Project, a low-income utility watchdog, said current and proposed rates place an “extraordinary burden” on gas customers, almost half of whom already can’t afford their utility bills.

Burd criticized National Grid’s “egregious” practice of seizing electric meters to shut off service when customers fall behind on their bills, and said the company has failed to help eligible low-income customers access available discounts.

Last year, she said, 13,524 customers, or 2.7 percent, had their service shut off by National Grid on Long Island and in the Rockaways, compared with 9,852 in 2014.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine at a Riverhead hearing called the delivery increase “excessive” and “unjustified,” and said National Grid shareholders should pay for the infrastructure improvements cited for the hike. He also took issue with increasing surcharges and the company’s request to ease certain performance standards to avoid penalties, calling it “just plain greedy.”

Two National Grid employees at the hearing Tuesday in Mineola declined to comment about the rate case or to give their names.

DPS acting director for Long Island Guy Mazza and state Public Service Commissioner Pat Acampora who attended Wednesday’s hearing in Riverhead, said only that they were there to listen.

Chris Widelo, associate state director for AARP, said he spoke for 500,000 members in calling the increase “too high” and asked the state to reject it.

“We believe this rate increase will threaten the affordability of essential natural gas service for vulnerable customers,” Widelo said.

Thomas Gallagher, a ratepayer from East Meadow, predicted a rippling effect of the increase, which he said would impact everyone from homeowners to pizza shops.

“Many people cannot afford to live here on Long Island,” Gallagher said. “We’re going to have to put a stop to this raising of rates.”

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