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National Grid rate hike spurs mixed views

WBFO's Mike Desmond

Not surprisingly, some businesses are supporting National Grid's request to raise electric delivery rates while citizens and citizen groups are opposed. That became apparent at Tuesday afternoon's Public Service Commission hearing at Buffalo's Central Library.

The 17.5 percent rate hike request is a sign of change in the way utilities operate. The company says the hike will not raise electricity prices, but the price of delivering electricity.

While National Grid delivers a bill from electric suppliers, that is passed along without a markup. The utility says the money will go for everything from upgrading the statewide electric grid for renewable energy to installing "smart" electric meters for electric and gas.

Consumer advocates insist people cannot afford any rate increase - even though the actual price of electricity has been dropping, as has the charge for delivery, until this request for a hike. In particular, they say the elderly, disabled and low-income families will suffer.

Opponents such as the Niagara Chapter of the Sierra Club, PUSH Buffalo and Crossroads Collective say the utility's rate request would raise monthly bills for Western New York electric customers by an average of $8.93. For its combined electric and gas customers, in cities like Syracuse and Albany, an average monthly utility bill would increase by $17.63.

In the business arena, Invest Buffalo Niagara President and CEO Tom Kucharski said his group works with National Grid on job creation efforts.

"Our organization works closely with National Grid in an effort to help attract new investment to our region," said Kucharski. "Having the system capacity and reliability to provide electric delivery service is a critical component in the site selection process. Without reliable and adequate electrical infrastructure, prospects considering locating in Western New York will look elsewhere."

Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus CEO Matt Enstice said National Grid has been good for the rapidly growing medical campus.

"We have worked with National Grid on many different initiatives, but we really, really support the initiatives that they are taking on to promote energy efficiency and deeper penetration of renewable resources and a wider deployment of distributed energy resources, such as microgrids, rooftop solar and on-site power supplies and, especially, storage," Enstice said.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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