The average gas-heating bill for National Grid customers could increase this summer by about $5.35 a month for the next two years if the state approves a rate hike proposal that was delayed because of the pandemic.
The hike would be lower than one planned by National Grid when it first applied for the increase in 2019. That increase would have set average customers back about $8.39 a month.
It could have been lower, as little as $4.13 a month, but since the bill hike is not expected to be in place until August, National Grid must collect a full year of new revenue in just eight months, spokeswoman Wendy Ladd said.
In a statement, National Grid New York president Rudy Wynter said the increase "seeks to fund programs necessary to continue safe and reliable service" while modernizing the gas network "for safer, more reliable and cleaner delivery of energy."
Environmental groups who insist the utility should not be expanding fossil-fuel gas infrastructure amid worsening climate change, said they will oppose the increase.
"They are spending even more on fracked-gas infrastructure" when they should be reducing its use, said Lee Ziesche, an organizer with the Sane Energy Project, a Brooklyn activist group that plans to object to the increase when it's considered by the state Public Service Commission.
"We’re going to fight this," Ziesche said, "we’re not going to let this be rubber-stamped and moved through."
This year’s 3.7% bill increase, which could take effect this August, depending on when, or whether the PSC approves it, will be followed next year by a hike of $5.45 a month, according to a voluminous filing with the state Department of Public Service, which negotiated the proposed rate settlement with National Grid.
The increase would pay for system upgrades, efficiency programs and other gas-system improvements. Amount increases for commercial customers are generally higher than for residential customers.
For average residential customers who use 102 therms of natural gas, their existing bill of $144 will increase to 149.34, according to the National Grid filings.
James Denn, a PSC spokesman, said the rate proposal "will be subject to a full and complete review, analysis and public comment before going to the PSC for final determination."
A decision is anticipated in July, Denn said.
Richard Berkley, executive director for the Public Utility Law Project, an Albany-based watchdog group, said while they do not believe National Grid should be increasing rates at a time when pandemic-related arrears have swollen to more than $1.3 billion for gas and electric customers statewide, the proposed hike could have been — and at one point was — worse.
"Would we have liked it lower? Of course, but it’s much lower than it was originally," said Berkley, adding that the new filing also includes needed programs to help customers reduce arrears, along with low-income help and better efficiency measures, which can lower bills. Berkley said the company also moderated rising costs by addressing expenses, including certain salary increases.
"They waived increases in management wages for the next year and a half for senior executives," he said, calling it "an important nod in sharing some of the pain ratepayers have felt."
The company also has the flexibility to increase surcharges outside of the typical rate mechanisms, Berkley said.