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National Grid customers to receive credit to offset high February bills

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CANTON - National Grid customers will catch a break in February to offset an expected spike in utility bills due to the cold weather.

The utility will front $32 million to stabilize rates, the state Public Service Commission announced Wednesday.

But the catch is that the credit is not a gift. Customers eventually will pay it back over time.

The credit will offset increases in customers’ bills that are projected to rise as much as 27 percent, according to a commission news release. Utility bills will be adjusted so that total rates, which include delivery and commodity charges, billed in February will be the same as those that took effect in January. Credits in February will vary by region, based on expected increases in electricity supply. Customers in upstate New York will receive larger credits than those downstate, because they would have been affected more by increases.

Based on projected commodity prices in February, predicted increases for the average residential bill range by location from $12.75 (17.6 percent) to $29.74 (27.2 percent). For small commercial customers, predicted increases for the total typical bill range from $34.66 (17.9 percent) to $77.88 (27.6 percent).

The commission’s board of directors decided National Grid should offer the one-time credit in February, rather than later, because of recent electricity increases this winter. Though utility customers across the state have faced higher-than-normal electricity costs due to extremely cold weather, costs were projected to be the highest in February for upstate residential and small-business customers.

“The unusually cold weather that has gripped the region has caused energy supply prices to surge in New York state and throughout the Northeast,” Audrey Zibelman, PSC chairwoman, said in the release. “This price spike is impacting National Grid’s upstate service territory, where electricity prices could increase by as much as 27 percent in February. These millions of dollars in temporary credit will help upstate New Yorkers and small businesses, who may already be struggling to pay their bills, offset some of this cost.”

Other utility companies also have increased residential bills this winter, but those increases were less than what National Grid customers have experienced, according to the commission. Though the commission regulates and sets delivery rates, supply rates fluctuate based on supply and demand. In recent months, demand for electricity and natural gas, which is used to generate electricity and provide heat, has been unprecedented.

Earlier this month, New York set a new winter record peak demand for electricity of 25,738 megawatts, beating the previous record winter peak demand of 25,541 megawatts set on Dec. 20, 2004, according to the New York Independent System Operator.

Customers won’t get a free pass, however, for the one-time credits issued by National Grid in February. The commission ruled that the utility will be allowed to recover the $32 million by charging customers in the future. The period over which customers will be charged will be determined at a later date by the commission. The February credit is designed to enable the expected increase in February prices to be spread out over a longer period.

The commission’s decision may be viewed online by visiting the “Commission Documents” section of its website at www.dps.gov, then entering case number 14-E-0026 in the input box labeled “Search for Case/Matter Number.”

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