Public Utility Law Project and AARP, Joined by Local and State Elected Officials,
Community Organizations and Consumers, Oppose National Grid–NY Rate Increase Proposal
Call proposal too high for vulnerable ratepayers and unfair —
customers charged 100% for Superfund cleanups
For Immediate Release:
Contact: New York City Council Black Latino Asian Caucus
Contact: Richard Berkley, Public Utility Law Project (PULP)
Nov. 3, 2016: New York City —With a critical public comment period ending Nov. 4, key New York City and State public officials, consumer advocates and community-based organizations, and hundreds of individual New Yorkers are calling on the New York State Public Service Commission (PSCNY) to reject National Grid–NY’s (the Company) huge rate increase request and numerous other charges and policies agreed to by the New York State Department of Public Service (DPS), the Company, and other Parties.
The Company submitted a rate increase proposal in February that went into settlement negotiations last summer. The settlement proposal that the Company, the Department of Public Service, and other Parties agreed to will increase customer gas bills in Brooklyn, Staten Island, and part of Queens by up to 40% over 3 years and will also tack on surcharges for Superfund site remediation that will likely persist on customer bills for decades. Significantly, no consumer advocacy group has supported the settlement proposal, which will be voted on by Commissioners of the PSCNY.
“The Members of the New York City Council’s Black Latino and Asian Caucus represent many of the lowest income ratepayers in New York City,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres, Co-Chair of the Caucus, “particularly within the Company’s service territory in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. On their behalf, we urge the Public Service Commission (PSC) to reject or significantly modify the proposal. When National Grid–NY bought KeySpan and Brooklyn Union Gas it knew the Superfund sites were included; the Company and its shareholders should acknowledge some responsibility, in the form of paying a percentage of the cleanup costs, as a disincentive to National Grid–NY and other public utilities to avoid such future poor business decisions.”
“The New York City Council Progressive Caucus is dedicated to creating a more just and equal City, and therefore strongly recommends that the Public Service Commission significantly modify the Joint Proposal, which as currently written would unduly burden low-income New Yorkers,” said Co-Chair Council Member Donovan Richards, on behalf of the Caucus. “To that end, the Company should seek to advance the common good by paying its fair share in Superfund site clean-up and strengthening efforts to negotiate Deferred Payment Agreements with ratepayers facing financial instability. Many of our constituents are living paycheck to paycheck, and it is essential that they have access to basic necessities without having to worry about making ends meet.”
“My constituents were among the hardest hit in the National Grid–NY’s service area during the 2006-7 financial turmoil, as shown by losses in jobs and homes; as a result, their incomes have not yet fully recovered,” said New York State Senator Kevin Parker, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy Committee. “Making ratepayers fund 100% to clean up the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek that even the Company acknowledges will grow and is difficult to forecast is a particularly egregious component of this agreement and needs to be addressed.”
“I am astonished by the joint agreement between National Grid and the Department of Public Service and its disregard for the current economic challenges faced by my constituents,” said New York State Senator Jesse Hamilton. “It is unacceptable to burden them and other ratepayers with 100% of the cost of cleaning up the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek Superfund sites. As PULP’s research has revealed, more than 16% of Brooklyn residents in the Company’s territory are currently 60 days or more in arrears with their energy bills. The estimated recovery cost of $800 million and the unpredictable cost overruns diminishes the current ratepayers’ ability to meet essential daily needs—food, rent, health care—and burdens a future generation with an expense, the cause for which they bear no responsibility.”
“Almost all of the Company’s service territory in New York City is in Brooklyn, and we represent constituents who are among the lowest income, particularly when it comes to housing and utility costs, in New York City,” said Members of New York City’s Brooklyn Assembly delegation. “Given the profound economic difficulties of many of our communities, we urge the Public Service Commission (PSC) to reject or significantly modify the proposal.”
“In my district rents are skyrocketing. Raising utility prices will only further hurt my constituency, who are already being priced out of North Brooklyn. Public utilities are meant to help our communities by allowing them to live comfortable lives. I urge the New York State Public Service Commission to reject National Grid–NY’s unjustified rate increase, because we need to help fellow New Yorkers, not hurt them,” said New York State Assembly Member Joseph Lentol, head of the Brooklyn delegation.
“It is a simple question of fundamental fairness,” said Public Utility Law Project Executive Director Richard Berkley. “Many of New York City’s veterans, seniors, and low-income and disabled households have not fully recovered from the loss of jobs and homes inflicted by the Great Recession, and the continually escalating unaffordability of energy, food, housing, medical costs and other necessities have only added to the difficulty Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island residents have in making ends meet.That is why, among other reasons, the Company’s proposal to place 100% of the cleanup of its Superfund sites upon customers should be rejected.”
“Regulators should reject this double-digit rate hike—and certainly the unfair imposition of all Superfund investigation and cleanup costs on ratepayers,” said Beth Finkel, AARP New York State Director. “National Grid’s shareholders should be held accountable for at least some of those costs, especially since the Company knew of them when purchasing KeySpan (f/k/a Brooklyn Union Gas). And with New York City consumers already facing the highest residential electric bills in the nation, the overall increase is more than they can bear. In fact, a recent AARP NY/Siena College survey found over half of the city’s Generation Xers and Baby Boomers—including 70 percent of middle-class Gen Xers—say utility costs are causing a serious impact on their financial condition.”
“The Department of Public Services proposes a sweetheart deal that places 100% of the cost of cleaning up two of New York’s most toxic sites on ratepayers, raising rates right as we enter heating season, and for an indefinite period into the future,” said Bill Lipton, New York State Director of the Working Families Organization. “The Governor and Public Service Commission owe it to New Yorkers to at least make National Grid pay its fair share of these clean-up costs”
“On behalf of my parishioners and their largely low-income families,” said Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church Pastor Emeritus Rev. David Dyson, “I urge the PSC to reject the Joint Settlement Proposal. The Proposal, as I read it, would adversely impact the most vulnerable of our neighbors in Brooklyn. In our community, half of our neighbors cannot afford their utility bills. Given the PSC’s recent efforts on behalf of low-income utility customers, I respectfully request the Commissioners to reject the Proposal and replace it with one that recognizes the burden placed on low-income residents.”
A final Order on the Joint Proposal is expected from the Public Service Commission by the end of the year.