PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — As Rhode Islanders brace for higher electric rates in the months ahead, Gov. Dan McKee outlined a plan Wednesday that he says will provide relief to residents.

Rhode Island Energy — previously known as National Grid — proposed a 47% rate increase last month. The company said the reason is because ongoing market conditions are driving up the price of electricity.

McKee and the Office of Energy Resources (OER) announced a proposal to use $3.8 million in funding from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to provide direct rate relief to 39,000 low-income residents who are most at risk of not being able to afford their utility bills this winter.

The new rate proposed for the upcoming winter is roughly 17.9 cents per kilowatt hour for residential customers, compared to last year’s rate of 10.9 cents per kilowatt hour, according to Rhode Island Energy.

The company said customers can expect to see their electricity bills go up by about $52 per month, based on an average use of 500 kilowatt hours of electricity used.

“Our most vulnerable residents do not have the means to absorb this rate increase. We have a responsibility to do everything possible to protect them,” McKee said. “This will help ease the burden of higher-than-average electricity prices and continue our commitment to provide relief to Rhode Islanders in the face of rising prices and inflation.”

The proposed winter supply rates are temporary, Rhode Island Energy noted, and will be in effect from Oct. 1, 2022, to March 31, 2023.

Wednesday’s announcement comes after the governor also asked the commission to give out the $32.5 million in electric ratepayer bill credits that were part of the state’s settlement with Rhode Island Energy’s parent company PPL.

“We are going to watch this and look at this very carefully to make sure it’s not worse than it needs to be,” McKee said on a recent episode of Newsmakers.

In response to McKee, Rhode Island Energy said they share his concern but the price hike is strictly due to increased costs. They also said the rising price of natural gas combined with other global economic events will result in higher costs to provide the power.

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Since McKee is currently running for a full term, 12 News reached out to other gubernatorial candidates for their perspectives on the rate hike issue:

Luis Daniel Muñoz, MD (D)

“The rate hike is unacceptable, and it places the health and well being of many Rhode Islanders at risk. As a candidate for Governor, I also SUPPORT the passage of PIPP as it is currently written in legislative bills S2182 and H7530, which would ensure that utility rates are lowered for low-income households, and for seniors on fixed incomes. I have also proposed in an op-ed in the Boston Globe that pollution generating industries should pay an additional tax (“Harm Tax”), which could be used to supplement capital resources used to support families impacted by environmental pollutants and economic hardship.”

Helena Foulkes (D)

“The Governor’s plan doesn’t go nearly far enough to address the serious financial strain low- and middle-income Rhode Islanders are experiencing. It’s a disgrace that in a year when the state had a $900M surplus, the Governor chose not to put any money back into the pockets of seniors or anyone without children. The first thing I would’ve done with that surplus is give a $500 tax cut to anyone making less than $100,000 a year.”

Matt Brown (D)

“Many families are on the brink of economic crisis right now. People are struggling just to pay the bills and put food on the table, and a record number of people are unhoused. This 50% rate hike means that people will be facing electricity shut offs in the midst of extreme weather and the start of winter. It will endanger the lives of Rhode Islanders. The Public Utilities Commission must reject Rhode Island Energy’s proposed rate increase and Senate President Ruggerio and Speaker Shekarchi must call a special session to pass a Percentage Income Payment Plan, guaranteeing that low-income Rhode Islanders can afford their utility bills.”

Jonathan Riccitelli (R)

“The current Governor’s plan to help with rate increases, is not sustainable and he has no facts or evidence showing that rates will decrease after the summer of 2023. Rhode Island Energy takes a profit loss for every solar panel and for every wind turbine that is set in place to reduce greenhouse emissions. With that being said unless we (Rhode Island) become 100% Energy independent, we will need to work with RI Energy and come up with along term plan that will sustain all customers and RI Energy’s longevity goals to be a partner with the States plan to cut green house emissions.”

Ashley Kalus (R)

“Every Rhode Islander feels the effect of skyrocketing prices, not just low-income families. The governor’s $3.8 million ‘relief plan’ is a joke and doesn’t go far enough to combat the hardship people will feel from a 47 percent increase to their electric bills. If McKee can find $67 million to fund a doomed soccer stadium, then he can certainly find more money than what he’s offering to help ease the burden for all who are struggling. It’s a disgrace that he continues to fail to use the tools at his disposal to improve the lives of our state’s residents. I call on the governor to immediately reconvene the General Assembly to suspend the Gross Receipts Tax on electricity.” 

Sec. Nellie Gorbea (D)

“Once again, Governor McKee is failing to do his job or do right by Rhode Islanders. Rhode Island Energy’s plan to increase rates by nearly 50% is unacceptable. The majority of ratepayers across the state will feel the full crushing weight of these rate increases, especially working families and seniors. The Governor’s proposal is nothing but a one time band-aid for a much more serious problem –$14-17 a month isn’t going to offset this kind of enormous spike in utility costs. The state currently has millions of federal dollars. As governor, I would address the short term problem of these increases and simultaneously work on offsetting costs for all ratepayers. We need to use our federal money to accelerate and expand energy efficiency programs. I also support the immediate enactment of a percentage-income payment plan to help stabilize costs for low-income ratepayers.”