Public hearing for BIPCo rate increase request scheduled for June 23

Thu, 06/18/2020 - 5:45pm
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The Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission has set a date for a public hearing on the Block Island Power Company’s request for an increase to its standard offer rate of 2.2 cents per kwh. The request was filed on June 1 in hopes that the increase could go into effect on July 1. For the average customer using 500 kwh per month, 2.2 cents will result in an increase of $11.00.

The amount requested was the result of the Block Island Utility District Board of Commissioners’ and BIPCo President Jeffery Wright’s best guess at to the impact of the Covid19 pandemic on the economy of Block Island. At the end of May, when electric deliveries were down 23 percent the same month from last year, things looked particularly gloomy, and the board predicated their rate increase on the expectation that future revenues would be down 30 percent for June, 20 percent for July, and 18 percent for August and September.

But by the next meeting, which took place on Saturday June 13, by Zoom, Wright was pleased to announce that deliveries for June, thus far, were only down 16.5 percent.

Commissioner Mary Jane Balser said: “That might be a spike” noting that restaurants and hotels were finally preparing for opening, but she also cautioned that “it will all depend on the use, and that won’t play out until July.”

Wright said, “The bottom line is we see some signs of the island opening up.” He specifically noted that the “load in New Harbor doubled or tripled just yesterday.” The New Harbor circuit serves most of the marinas.

BIPCo will continue to closely monitor the situation and supply that information to the PUC, which may lessen the amount of the increase requested based on that data.

The PUC hearing will be held on June 23 at 10:00 a.m., with public comments due to be submitted by 4 p.m. on June 22. Comments should be submitted by email to Luly Massaro at luly. massaro@puc.ri.gov. The hearing itself will be livestreamed at https://www.ustream.tv/Channel/ WqQyXw296dg. Materials may be found in PUC Commission docket 4690.

“Of bigger concern,” said Wright, “is people using electricity but not paying for it.” He said that the number of delinquent accounts had more than doubled. “That is of concern. About seven commercial customers are letting their bills slide.”

The PUC has put a moratorium on utility shutoffs for the time being, and Wright expressed the hope that they would lift the ban, at least on the commercial side. For now, the company is trying to work with delinquent customers by reaching out to them and formulating payment plans. “First, we get on the phone with them,” he said.

Plans are moving ahead for the building of a house on BIPCo property that would be rented to the president. Commissioner Mary Jane Balser has received an initial estimate for the house at $530,000 from a modular building company, but the details were not available for the meeting, and Commissioner Everett Shorey, who was chairing the meeting in Barbara MacMullan’s absence wished to defer any decision making until she could attend.

Treasurer Bill Penn, however had an announcement: that the “anonymous benefactor” behind the Block Island Solar Initiative has volunteered to pay for a solar system, and all the appliances and mechanicals for the house as long as all of the appliances were high efficiency electric ones.

At past meetings, some of the commissioners wished to be flexible and allow for a propane stove and gas fireplace if the tenants-to-be wished. When asked about this, Penn replied that the offer was “all or nothing.”

Shorey expressed the need for a written proposal, and there were questions as to whether procurement policies would apply, an issue raised by Chris Warfel who, as a solar installer, has not been given the opportunity to bid on the various solar installations proposed by the Solar Initiative for other groups on the island.

“This is a gift,” said Penn, indicating that procurement policies did not apply, as BIPCo was not in actuality purchasing anything.

But that’s where things got muddy, especially as to the mechanicals. There is a difference between a donor buying appliances and dropping them off, and installing the mechanicals, which is more a part of the construction process, and which a monetary gift would go towards.

“I want to be mindful about creating opportunities for our members,” said Shorey. He and others wanted to see a clear proposal from the donor.

Balser agreed, adding that the donor be asked what the intention of the gift was, and make sure that they knew the dollar amount of what they would be donating. Earlier she estimated it could be around $50,000.

“I’m willing to give up the gas stove,” in favor of the gift, said Commissioner Elliot Taubman.

Warfel, who attended a portion of the meeting, said that the Rhode Island Attorney General was looking into the issue of procurement as it related to gifts, at his request. He added: “Wealth dictating what goes on is going down a slippery slope.”

“Good point,” said Balser.

“Chris does bring up a legitimate issue,” said Taubman.

The next meeting of the Utility District will be July 11, at 11:00 a.m..