On the surface, Eversource can make a solid case for a rate increase. They haven’t had one for 25 years. They’ve made improvements to infrastructure, and in most cases, are getting the lights back on after storms more quickly than ever. They’re looking at innovations, including a proposal here on Martha’s Vineyard to store electricity generated by solar arrays so the energy generated doesn’t go unused.
It all sounds great. Except Eversource doesn’t appear to need additional capital to do what it needs and wants to do to better serve its customers.
It’s a case that Attorney General Maura Healey has been making across the commonwealth at a number of hearings being held by the Department of Public Utilities (DPU), which will ultimately make the decision of whether to approve the rate hike.
According to Ms. Healey and her staff, shareholders of Eversource have nothing to complain about. The utility has been sending them many happy returns on their investments — an average of 11 percent per year from 2010 to 2014, and 15 percent in 2015.
The cumulative return for investors from 2010 to 2015 was 89 percent, according to Kaylea Moore, the Island’s liaison for State Representative Dylan Fernandes.
We certainly don’t object to anyone making a profit, but raising the price on the backs of ratepayers in an effort to keep those vibrant rates of return coming for shareholders is tough to swallow.
There are other problems with the requests being made by Eversource. One of them is a change that seeks to eliminate a seasonal rate, which would obviously affect some homeowners on Martha’s Vineyard.
Eversource also wants to add a so-called demand charge for people who get electricity from alternative sources like wind and solar. In other words, when the wind’s not blowing and the sun’s not shining, they’ll be charged a premium to draw from the grid. Eversource argues that all ratepayers are subsidizing so-called net-metered customers, but opponents of the demand charge say it would be a disincentive for such renewable projects in the future.
None of us likes to pay more for electricity, gas, oil, cable, or other goods and services. But Eversource has an even steeper hill to climb — think Heartbreak Hill on Marathon Monday. The utility hasn’t been particularly responsive to complaints on the Island about the use of herbicides on its power line rights of way. “We keep writing letters and we get no response,” Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel said.
For a place like the Vineyard, where natural resources are so important to its vitality, it’s a slap in the face to ignore these ongoing concerns.
And unique to the Vineyard is the fact that so many homeowners are responsible for the upkeep of their own power lines, something they typically find out at the bleakest moments, when a storm has knocked out their source of electricity and Eversource tells them: Not our problem.
Eversource wants those customers to pay the increased rates with no compensation for maintaining their own lines.
About 50 people turned out for last week’s hearing. That’s a pretty good showing. But it would be better if the state agency heard from more of us. Written comments are being accepted through the end of this month. You can send them to: Mark D. Marini, Secretary, Department of Public Utilities, One South Station, 5th floor, Boston, MA 02110.
State regulators would do well to remember that a rate hike won’t affect just residential customers; business and government ratepayers will also foot a higher bill. Businesses would either have to pass that cost on to customers or make cuts elsewhere, possibly to employees.
On an Island where the cost of living is already “exhorbitantly high,” as Ms. Moore testified on behalf of Representative Fernandes and State Senator Julian Cyr, a rate hike of any proportion would shift the already teetering balance of making ends meet.
Seems like an easy one for the DPU. Not this time, Eversource.