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Electricity rates to rise for Western Massachusetts customers

(Collegian File Photo)

Electricity rate hikes that could bring an additional $36 million in annual revenue to energy company Eversource were approved by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities on Thursday, Nov. 30.

It is unclear whether the University of Massachusetts will see any changes to its rates or coverage.

Initially seeking rate increases up to 30 percent higher than what was approved, Eversource will see rate hikes starting Jan. 1 that will increase electric bills for Western Massachusetts customers by $8.15 a month, on average.

“By significantly reducing the rate increases proposed by Eversource, the order issued by the Department of Public Utilities will ensure safe and reliable electric service for ratepayers across the Commonwealth while minimizing financial impacts on customers,” Department of Public Utilities Chair Angela M. O’Connor stated in a press release on Friday.

UMass generates about 65 percent of its energy needs from the on-site physical plant; Western Massachusetts Electric Company, an Eversource subsidiary, meets the remaining 35 percent of the University’s energy needs.

Energy from Western Mass. Electric is bought by the University at a rate almost three times higher than the cost for energy that is generated on-site. Last year, UMass spent almost $2 million on purchased energy, compared to the $1.2 million spent on energy generated by UMass.

According to UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewski, the rate hike will likely not be significant for the University. State officials will determine the extent of rate changes for different classifications of customers by the end of the year.

“If the rates increase…it would be a modest cost increase that would take effect probably in the next fiscal year,” Blaguszewski said in an email.

UMass and Eversource are in the third year of a series of efforts designed to make the University more energy efficient. Those efforts hope to save the University $1.8 million in annual energy costs through the first half of 2020, with goals of saving nine million kilowatt-hours over that same time span.

Though increases in Eversource’s rates will begin in January, Blaguszewski did not comment on the possibility of additional charges to the University as a result of the increased statewide rates.

The energy company provides approximately 1.4 million people in Massachusetts with electricity across 140 cities and towns, with territory covering almost 3,200 square miles. Eversource serves approximately one-fourth of Western Massachusetts’ population with electricity.

Throughout the state, government officials and Eversource have commented publicly on the issue of raising electricity costs for Massachusetts residents and businesses.

Perhaps one of the most prominent critics was Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who criticized Eversource’s initial request for rate hikes in a testimony before Public Utilities on Thursday. The utility company initially requested to increase rates by more than $96 million in 2018.

“When so many customers today are struggling to make ends meet and businesses are trying to lower their energy costs to maintain and grow jobs, it is time to return money to customers, not to raise their electric bills to benefit highly profitable utility companies,” Healey stated in her testimony.

In a statement from Eversource spokeswoman Caroline Pretyman provided to the Boston Globe, the company expressed that it was disappointed in not receiving the full extent of its proposed hike.

“Though we’re still reviewing the decision, we’re disappointed with the deep cuts the DPU made to our rate request,” said Pretyman. “We feel we provided sufficient and detailed documentation to support the total increase we requested.”

Though the increase will not be to the extent originally proposed by Eversource, the rate hike will be the first for Western Massachusetts customers since 2010. The order approving the rate increase prevents Eversource from raising rates again until 2022.

Will Soltero can be reached at wsoltero@umass.edu and followed on Twitter at @WillSoltero.

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