Opinion: A Pandemic is Hardly the Time to Raise Utility Rates

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by Matt Huber

Matt Huber is Associate Professor of Geography at Syracuse University and co-chair of the Ecosocialist Committee in the Syracuse Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)

Do you think we should be raising utility rates the midst of a pandemic? National Grid does. They have initiated a “rate case” with the NY Public Services Commission (PSC) arguing to raise residential electricity and gas rates 4% and 6% respectively.

This comes at a time where unemployment is still over 12% in New York State. Many CNY households are reporting difficulty paying rent, grocery, and medical bills.

public comment submitted to the PSC argued against the rate hike: “The world is a mess…and a lot of people have lost their jobs. Parents are stressed enough…trying to teach their children at home.”

National Grid also wants to use the funds to double down on fossil fuel infrastructure like natural gas pipelines. Another public comment argued, “The plan…is a flat out denial of climate change.”

How could they do this? I’m co-chair of the Syracuse Democratic Socialists of America’s Ecosocialist committee. We believe the explanation is simple. National Grid is what is called an “investor-owned” utility. This means it has one goal: profit.

National Grid asserts it needs this revenue to “invest” in infrastructure, but it also makes sure its owners and investors are paid first. It is a British company whose CEO John Pettigrew made $6.8 million last year. It has paid $14 million in shareholder dividends since 2015.

We have an answer: public power. Public ownership of utility systems is known to deliver cheaper energy. Local residents know Solvay’s municipal utility customers pay dramatically lower rates than their neighbors.

On climate change, public power allows utilities to prioritize solving climate change with clean energy ahead of private profits. For example, the public Sacramento Municipal Utility District recently announced clean energy goals at a much more ambitious pace than the rest of California.

We are part of a statewide coalition of DSA chapters demanding public power as the clear answer to the urgency of this crisis. We will hold a rally this Thursday October 22, at 5pm in front of the Niagara Mohawk building in Syracuse.

No to National Grid’s rate hikes. Yes to public power.

The op-ed appeared on Syracuse.com, 10/19/2020

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