A friend of mine works for a family-owned home heating oil business, and every winter she braces herself for cash-strapped customers seeking leniency because they can’t pay their bills.
Many of these customers are seniors on fixed incomes.
They’re struggling, and their struggles get worse in the winter, when the added burden of higher energy costs is more than some people can bear. Unfortunately for them, heat is a necessity. Those who go without are in for a very cold, very painful winter.
I don’t object to heating costs going up – the cost of everything goes up, over time.
But I do object to National Grid’s proposed rate increase, which would boost delivery charges for electricity by 17.5 percent and 20.5 percent for gas.
After a decade without a major rate hike, National Grid is perfectly justified in requesting a rate increase.
But the double-digit increase that’s been proposed is excessive.
It will hit lower-income customers especially hard, at a time when these customers are already struggling.
According to an April article on Syracuse.com, utility shut-offs due to non-payment are soaring in upstate New York.
In both 2015 and 2016, National Grid terminated heat and electricity service to more than 66,000 upstate households, a rate more than 30 percent higher than in 2013 and the highest rate of shutoffs in at least a decade.
This rise in utility shut-offs is alarming – a red flag that suggests far too many upstate residents are falling further and further behind.
If National Grid’s rate increase is approved, these numbers will only get worse.
The company has said it will provide more discounts and assistance to low-income customers, and that this will make the rate increase less burdensome.
Assuming this is true – and I’m skeptical, given that so many people are already struggling – it doesn’t change the fact that the proposed rate increase is unreasonable.
It’s simply too much to ask, and groups such as the AARP and the Public Utility Law Project are right to oppose it.
A handful of elected officials have also spoken out against the proposed rate increase, and others should consider joining them.
Upstate residents are already seeing basic expenses, such as rent and health care, increase, and costlier utility bills will only add to the strain.
Again, I’m not objecting to the idea of a rate increase.
But this is too much.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at https://dailygazette.com/blogs/ thinking-it-through.