NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect that the proposed gas hike increase has not yet been voted on by the PUC.
WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted Friday to approve a rate hike sought by the state’s primary electricity and gas provider, Rhode Island Energy.
Customers can expect to see a 47% increase in their electricity bills starting Oct. 1, which averages out to about $52 each month.
The utility has also proposed a 15% increase to residents’ gas bills and 16% increase to small businesses’ gas bills at the start of November, which will be voted on by the PUC at a later date.
Rhode Island Energy assured the rate hikes are temporary, saying they were necessary to offset the increased costs to provide power with the current economy and ongoing war in Ukraine.
A group of protesters gathered outside the 11 a.m. meeting then made their way inside, hoping to compel the PUC to reject Rhode Island Energy’s proposal. At one point, the meeting had to be put on hold due to the disruption and several of the protesters were escorted out of the building.
“It isn’t going to do anything for me but put me further in debt, and then me and my children are going to be out on the street,” Rhode Island Energy customer Doren James said.
State Rep. David Morales, who represents District 7 in Providence, also spoke up during the hearing.
“It’s insulting,” he said. “We heard traumatic story after traumatic story about the impact these rate increases would have, and here we are just seven days later and it’s as if that meeting last week just didn’t matter at all.”
Watch: Protesters decry utility rate hikes (story continues below)
The PUC held a meeting last Friday to hear public comment on the rate hikes. Dozens of people packed into the agency’s office in Warwick, while others commented through Zoom and over the phone. The PUC also accepted written comments online.
The PUC on Friday also approved a plan from Gov. Dan McKee to use $3.8 million in funding from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to provide rate relief for roughly 39,000 low-income Rhode Islanders.
Customers also have the option to defer a portion of the increase from winter payments to summer.
“We’re going to do our best within the system that we have to make these impacts as soft as we can in the circumstances we are forced to deal with,” PUC Commissioner John Revens said.
Still, Morales believes the rate increases will result in evictions and homelessness.
“Ashamed,” Morales said. “Ashamed of the Public Utilities Commission. Ashamed of our state government not fighting back further on this issue. I think we should have had every elected official here demanding there be a rejection of these rate hikes.”
McKee released a statement later on Friday, saying he “urged the PUC to explore all opportunities to minimize utility bill impacts” and will continue to do so.
“With the $3.8 million in RGGI funding and $32 million in settlement credits with the Attorney General, we have effectively eliminated the impact for our most vulnerable constituents, and they will not see an increase in their overall electric bills when compared to last winter,” McKee wrote.
Ashley Kalus, McKee’s GOP challenger in the upcoming election, placed the blame solely on McKee.
“The PUC rate hike is another difference between how Mayor McKee and Governor McKee lead,” Kalus said. “Mayor McKee stood up for ratepayers – now, Governor McKee gives Rhode Island the highest energy prices in history.”
“At a time when inflation is crushing Rhode Island families and small businesses, this is the last thing they need to hear – especially our seniors on a fixed income and low-income families,” she added.
Rhode Island Energy previously said that help is available for Rhode Islanders who need help paying their bills. The utility offered the following tips:
- Shop for electricity: We encourage customers to use the Last Resort Service rates as a reference point when shopping for the electricity supplier that offers the service and price that is right for them. If customers do choose to shop for a supplier, we encourage them to pay attention to the specific terms of the agreements they sign. Sometimes suppliers offer introductory offers or special incentives. Customers should be aware of variable rates that often start low and then increase significantly with the price of energy. For tips on smart shopping, visit the state of Rhode Island’s website.
- Save energy: Reducing the amount of energy used at a home or business can save customers money on their monthly bills. Rhode Island Energy offers tips, programs, and rebates that can help. Residential customers can also sign up for a free home energy audit. For more information, visit RIEnergy.com.
- Get bill assistance: We offer numerous programs and tools – including budget billing and payment plans – to help customers who are having trouble keeping up with their electric bills. To learn more, visit RIEnergy.com or call 1-800-743-1104.