Lawmaker investigating massive utility rate hikes

( -- Hundreds of FOX25 viewers say their electric bills are out of control, and some families say that they cannot afford to pay them.

FOX25's Kerry Kavanaugh spoke with a state lawmaker who's now investigating how massive rate hikes got approved right before the start of the winter season.

State representative David Linsky, chairman of the House Committee of Post Audit and Oversight, wants to know why rates increased so much. His committee is now investigating what triggered the electric rate increases and if they were justified.

Before the winter season, the state's largest electric companies, National Grid and Eversource, increased their rates 37- and 29-percent. The companies said it was due to the how costly is was to supply electricity to this area during the extremely cold winter.

Linksy also wants to know more about the process of getting the rates approved. Massachusetts electric rates are regulated by the State Department of Public Utilities.

Kavanaugh contacted the Department of Public Utilities, which approved the rate hikes.

Spokesperson, Katie Gronendyke said in an emailed statement “…it (the Department) has taken a number of steps to help alleviate the burden of higher electricity costs to ratepayers this winter.  The Department has already directed the companies to inform customers about energy efficiency programs and bill payment options for eligible customers.” The statement went on to say, “the Department opened a proceeding on December 11, 2014 to investigate ways to improve the retail electric competitive supply market, including proposing the creation of an electric competitive supplier website that would give customers the ability to efficiently shop for a competitive supplier instead of default basic service. “
Eversource says as a regulated company, they adjust our rates on a set schedule, in Eversource's case in January & July.  

In a written statement, spokesperson, Rhiannon D'Angelo, wrote” In addition to the increased price of electricity charged by generators, this winter has been brutally cold, which has meant that customers are indoors more, leaving the heat on longer and running more appliances.  Naturally, this has led to higher bills.”
It went on to say “Again -- it's critical to remember that there are two parts of the electric bill.  On the side we can control -- the delivery side -- we have not had asked for a rate increase in ten years. “
National Grid also attributed the rate hikes to the cost of supplying it to the area. Spokesperson, Danielle Williamson, wrote “With about half of New England's electricity generation now fueled by natural gas, electric commodity prices rose again this winter because of continued constraints on the natural gas pipelines serving the region. These constraints (we have enough gas, but not enough "highways," or pipelines, to get it here), decrease natural gas availability at times of peak demand, causing some generators to buy gas on the spot market at higher prices, switch over to alternate fuels or not run at all.”
Linsky said he didn't have a timeline for his committee's investigation. But, he said he and his rest of the elected officials owe it to their constituents to investigate exactly how the state got to this point with electric rates.
According to national data released by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported electric customers in Boston are paying 63% higher electric rates than the rest of the country.
National Grid said this week it was lowering rates by 26% percent come May. Customers say it's too little too late for them.