The state Public Service Commission on Thursday approved a new rate plan for gas supplier National Grid that effectively leaves rates stable in the first year, then raises monthly bills by an average $5.40 in the next two years.
In its original filing in April 2019, National Grid had requested a rate hike that would have increased natural gas bills around $6.53 a month, or nearly 7%, Newsday reported. The PSC’s approval Thursday "represents a sharp decrease from the rate increases originally sought," the agency said in a statement.
The first year’s lack of an increase was the result of combining customer credits with other factors, according to the Public Service Commission. In the second year of the three-year rate plan, average customers will see their bills increase by 3.7% or around $5.35 a month. In the third year, the increase is 3.7% or $4.45, the PSC said.
The PSC’s order approving the rate plan requires National Grid to "prioritize leak-prone pipe removal," develop an "enhanced methane detection program," discontinue natural gas marketing efforts and promotional programs, and provide "educational information to customers about alternative heating options and the emission reduction requirements" of the state’s climate protection law.
It also requires National Grid to "prioritize energy efficiency and demand response as part of an effort to avoid construction of capital projects that may increase greenhouse gas emissions," the PSC said.
"The goal is to have the utility sell less gas in the future, a clear-cut indication of what will happen at other gas utilities in New York State as CLCPA [Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act] requirements take effect," the PSC said.
National Grid spokeswoman Wendy Ladd said the PSC approval "will allow us to prioritize energy affordability," invest in programs to keep the gas network safe and reliable and launch programs that "accelerate the transition to a cleaner energy future."
Separately Thursday, the PSC approved increases to its low-income bill discount programs, including a $129 million increase to its Energy Affordability Policy. The move will make the program accessible to more than 95,000 additional customers, the PSC said.
PSC chairman John Howard said the direct-assistance programs are needed "for these low-income households where energy costs can account for too much of a family’s monthly income."
The program will increase bill discounts for low-income ratepayers and directs utilities to develop new processes to make the programs available to more of those customers.