DPU to hold a hearing on Eversource rate hikes

Vineyard residents can have their say on Eversource rates at a hearing before the state Department of Public Utilities Monday at Katharine Cornell Theatre in Tisbury. — Stacey Rupolo

Martha’s Vineyard residents can weigh in on electric rate hikes proposed by Eversource, at a public hearing convened by the state Department of Public Utilities and scheduled at 6 p.m. Monday, April 24, at Katharine Cornell Theatre in Tisbury.

Eversource’s request, which would take effect in 2018, is aimed at collecting an additional $95 million per year throughout the state. The proposal would change the way ratepayers are charged for their electricity. Eversource has said the rate increase would cost most ratepayers about $8.45 per month for home that uses 550 kilowatt hours of electricity. Eversource spokesman Michael Durand told the Times said the proposed increase would be $30 million higher were it not for cost-savings associated with NStar’s merger with Northeast Utilities.

The utility says the increase is necessary to continue to modernize the grid and improve reliability, Mr. Durand said. The rate hike would be the first full-blown distribution increase in 25 years, he said. The utility did have an increase 12 years ago, but that was offset by a decrease in another part of the overall rate structure, Mr. Durand said.

“There comes a time where you need to raise prices to meet increased costs over 25 years,” he said.

The company has improved the transmission infrastructure and has systems in place that allow for rerouting electricity for outages caused by storms, Mr. Durand said. “We are getting power back on much more quickly than we have in the past,” he said. “The frequency and duration of outages have been reduced. We want to continue to be able to do that.”

This proposed rate hike has come with considerable pushback. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has been calling on the company to cut profits instead of increasing rates.

According to the Cape Light Compact, which is questioning the increases, Eversource plans to change the customer charge from a per kilowatt hour to a fixed charge. That could wind up costing low-usage and seasonal customers more and “lessens the incentive for energy efficiency” and energy generated by solar, according to the Cape Light.

A demand charge that would be imposed on net-metered customers connected after Jan. 1, 2018, for residential customers and after Jan. 1, 2019, for commercial customers could also have adverse impacts on renewable energy projects, Cape Light states.

The concerns are detailed on Cape Light Compact’s website.

Eversource is attempting to make future systems that are net-metered more equitable for customers who either can’t have solar power because of location or because they can’t afford it, Mr. Durand said. Right now, customers are subsidizing customers who use renewables because the Eversource system has to be in place as a backup.

“If it’s a cloudy day, overnight, any time sun is not shining, they need our electricity,” he said. “There’s a cost associated with that being on the street that right now neighbors are paying for.”

Anyone with a net-metered system already in place would be grandfathered, he said.

Eversource understands the value of renewable energy sources, Mr. Durand said. The company is looking for a location on Martha’s Vineyard for a pilot program for energy storage. “This would benefit customers who have renewable energy facilities that don’t produce power at all times of the day,” he said. “Once it’s produced, if it’s not consumed, it’s gone. A battery would store it and release it into the system when it’s needed.”