The Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC) today decided to not grant National Grid the nearly 25% price increase it asked for, but instead approved a 14% increase that will allow National Grid to come back in the Summer to ask for more money. The decision was met with anger and outrage by the over one hundred people who packed the small meeting room to oppose the increase.
As PUC Chairperson Margaret Curran and Commissioners Paul J Roberti and Herbert F DeSimone, Jr discussed options, which by law must be conducted in an “open” meeting, activists, protesters and frustrated, cash-strapped homeowners kept up a steady barrage of angry comments, admonishing the board for not taking a stand against National Grid and corporate greed.
The PUC Commissioners did their best to ignore the comments, but occasionally, out of exasperation, could not help themselves.
“We had a hearing last week,” said Commissioner DeSimone.
“Public comment has been done,” said Commissioner Curran.
“A dog and pony show!” replied an angry protester.
Still, the PUC board persevered, despite showing obvious signs of discomfort and annoyance (that pale to insignificance when matched against the discomfort and annoyance people will feel when these rate hikes cause their families to lose their homes, children and elderly to miss meals and all of us to lower our standard of living to accommodate National Grid profits.) With affected dispassion the board revealed that they do not have the power to tell National Grid “no,” confirming the crowd’s suspicions that the board is little more than a rubber stamp for whatever rates National Grid seeks to impose.
It was also revealed by the board that the PUC must always prioritize the financial health of National Grid, whereas the economic impacts of rate increases on Rhode Island residents are not factored. Early on the issue was presented as being about pipeline capacity, an obvious red herring given that no increase in pipeline capacity could have an effect on electric rates for at least eight years, and the pipeline expansion requested is for exporting natural gas, not for use in Rhode Island.
Perhaps the attitudes of the PUC and the protesters can best be summed up in this short clip:
Upon passage of the increase, the crowd broke into chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” and “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Corporate Greed has Got to Go!” Nearby I heard a man say to his friend, “The state is only a mechanism for managing capital.”
Then the PUC discussed the impact this rate increase will have on seasonal businesses, which they then proceeded to do everything in their power to mitigate. “Seasonal businesses are one of the backbones or Rhode island’s economy,” said Commissioner DeSimone. ‘What about people?” asked someone from the crowd. The commissioners ignored the question and the crowd. Someone else asked, “We’re not even an issue any more, are we?”
It was clear that the meeting was, for all intents and purposes, over. National Grid got the rate increase they wanted said protesters, (not the one they asked for, 25%, but the one they wanted, 14%) and the people, especially those who are most economically vulnerable, lost.
Happy Holidays, everyone.
Support Steve Ahlquist!