National Grid is proposing up to $50 million in COVID-19 relief to support the company’s most economically vulnerable residential customers as well as businesses that are struggling because of the financial impact of the pandemic.
The company will work with New York Public Service Commission staff, customer advocates and other stakeholders to determine how best to allocate the assistance to those most in need across its upstate New York service area.
“From the onset of this pandemic we made the commitment to help our customers during these challenging times and we recognize that we have an important opportunity to provide additional customer assistance beyond what we currently offer through our COVID-19 programs and rate plans,” said John Bruckner, National Grid’s New York president.
He noted that the company will use deferral account credits to provide immediate COVID-19 financial assistance and will work with PSC staff and other parties to determine eligibility and program details. There also will be an opportunity for public input during the PSC comment period as the programs are being defined.
The company’s plan to provide additional customer assistance will be filed separately from its request to reset delivery rates beginning in July 2021 so that the customer financial support could be considered and implemented more quickly than the required 11-month rate proceeding process.
“We know our customers continue to struggle during this pandemic and this is a way for us to provide some near-term relief,” Bruckner said.
Enhanced Customer Support Programs Included in the 2021 Rate Filing
National Grid’s current three-year rate agreement expires March 31, 2021 and the company has submitted a request for new delivery prices beginning in July 2021. The new rates would cover the costs of providing service to upstate New York customers and includes enhanced energy affordability programs and services, continued deployment of economic development programs that grow the economy, and unprecedented investment in energy efficiency and demand response programs to help customers manage their energy usage and bills.
Under the proposal, residential electricity customers would see an average bill increase of 4 percent or $3.43 per month. Residential gas customers would see an average bill increase of 6 percent or $4.53 per month. The company originally planned to file a request for new rates in April but delayed that filing until July 31 due to COVID-19.
“We made the decision to delay this proposal so that we could use the time over the last few months to refine and reduce the amount of our request,” Bruckner said. “We worked hard to strike a balance between what is needed in the near term to maintain and improve reliability and further support our customers, and we postponed other initiatives to later years to lessen the financial impact on customers.”
While National Grid has filed a one-year plan, Bruckner noted the company hopes to work with PSC staff, customer advocates and other stakeholders to reach a multi-year agreement that would phase in new rates to further mitigate customer bill impacts. Reaching a settlement that spreads the increase over three years and includes deferral credits and other offsets, for example, could reduce the first-year delivery price impacts by more than half.
“We know we are not operating in a business-as-usual climate,” Bruckner said. “We will doeverything we can to work with PSC staff and other stakeholders to reach a multi-year settlement thatmaintains affordability, mitigates bill impacts and supports New York’s economic recovery. At thesame time, we need to adjust rates to cover the costs of providing service and we must remain financially healthy to attract the necessary capital to finance our operations, which will lower costs forcustomers in the long run.”
The company’s filing would impact only energy delivery prices. There are two components of an energy bill: delivery charges and supply charges. Delivery charges reflect the ongoing cost of operating and maintaining the natural gas and electricity networks – including investments to ensure a resilient grid in the face of more frequent and damaging storms and the integration of clean energy resources. Supply prices are set by the market, not National Grid, and the company does not profit from the sale of energy supply. Customers also have the option to buy their energy supply from a third-party provider.
Under New York public service law, rate cases are an 11-month process that will include a number of opportunities for public input.
National Grid’s upstate New York electricity business serves 1.6 million customers in more than 450 cities and towns across 24,000 square miles. The gas distribution business serves more than 600,000 customers across portions of Central, Northern and Eastern New York.