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9/18/2023 Rep. Morales and ratepayers urge PUC to reject proposed electricity rate hikes
STATE HOUSE – Rep. David Morales joins numerous ratepayers this week in urging the Public Utilities Commission to reject a rate increase proposed by Rhode Island Energy to raise Rhode Islanders’ electric bills by 24 percent. The PUC is scheduled to vote on this rate hike proposal on Wednesday, Sept. 20. 

“Almost every fall, people all across Rhode Island are forced to stress about the same issue – the increasing costs of their electricity services. And since taking ownership of our utility system, RI Energy has proposed egregious, record-setting rate hikes which have hurt thousands of Rhode Islanders who have now fallen behind on their utility bills and are now experiencing debt (some have even been on the verge of having their services cut),” wrote Representative Morales (D-Dist. 7, Providence) in a letter to the PUC.

“With RI Energy’s growing revenues being worth billions of dollars, it is absurd for RI Energy to pretend these rate hikes are inevitable as it has become relatively clear that the company values their shareholders and profit more than their actual customers who DEPEND on utility services. Because despite RI Energy President, Dave Bonenberger, claiming back in June: ‘we’ll [RI Energy] continue to work with state leaders on other ways to help the most vulnerable’ – that has not happened.

“I respectfully ask that the PUC vote against Rhode Island Energy’s proposal to increase electricity rates for the fall, especially when you consider that this year there are significantly less resources and utility relief programs available for people to access,” he concluded.

The proposed increase would result in an additional $32 every month this winter on the bill of a typical customer who uses about 500 kilowatt hours monthly, bringing that customer’s bill to about $166.

Rhode Island Energy provides electricity to the vast majority of Rhode Islanders, although the rate increase would not apply to about 30% of those in the company’s distribution area who purchase their energy supply through one of the community aggregate suppliers serving Providence, Newport, Central Falls, Barrington Narragansett, Portsmouth and South Kingstown, or through another alternative supplier.

At a public hearing on the proposed increase Wednesday, Sept. 13, a dozen Rhode Islanders urged the commissioners to reject the rate increase, arguing that it would place too great a burden on households that are already struggling to pay high rates.

“Rate increases do not mean our pay increases by $32 dollars a month. This now means $32 that isn’t going to groceries, to rent, to survival. Utilities are a necessity and Rhode Island Energy is intentionally exploiting low-income communities with this proposed rate increase. I am firmly against this increase and do not think Rhode Islanders should be at the whim of RI Energy,” said Syd Dominick of Providence.

Said Aaron Isaac of West Warwick, “People cannot afford another rate increase. Many of us survive on limited and/or fixed income and another increase will force us to choose between food and lights. Another increase will only drive us deeper into debt.”

Daniel Benitez of Pawtucket told the commission, “Utilities are already too expensive. My family spends a lot of money like food, medical expenses, gas, and we can’t afford a rate increase.”

Said Camilo Viveiros, director of the George Wiley Center, “Rhode Island Energy should freeze any rate increases for low-income, unemployed, disabled people and seniors on fixed incomes. Instead of trying to hike rates, RI Energy should be working to pass PIPP which is a Percentage Income Payment Plan that would lower energy costs for Rhode Islanders!”

Said Devany Bhatt of Pawtucket, who attended the hearing with his mother, Vishwa Bhatt, “My mother and I are struggling to pay the bills already and with the planned rate increase, it would be very difficult to make ends meet. We won’t be able to afford another rate increase.”

Representative Morales has long fought for more affordable utility rates for Rhode Islanders. This year he sponsored legislation that would codify and extend the state’s annual utility termination moratorium, which protects consumers from experiencing energy shut-offs. The legislation (2023-H 5411) passed the House, and Representative Morales plans to reintroduce it next session.

Note: Representative Morales’ letter to the PUC is attached.

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-1923