RI regulators approve largest ever rate hike

Rev. Carl Jefferson rallies activists heading in to a meeting of the RI Public Utilities Commission before the panel voted September 23, 2022 to sharply raise gas and electric rates to meet utility company Rhode Island Energy’s rising fuel costs. Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

By Steve Klamkin WPRO News

Despite appeals from community members, activists and clergy members the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission voted Friday to approve sharp increases in gas and electric rates, to offset rising energy costs at the wholesale level, attributed to inflation resulting from the Russian war on Ukraine.

The PUC votes came at the conclusion of a sometimes raucous meeting that saw Warwick Police officers called to remove some of the activists, although no one was arrested.

“I think it is shameful, I think it is immoral, I think it is wrong,” said State Representative David Morales (D-Providence) after the meeting. He was among the vocal opponents of the increase who were removed by police.

The rate increase amounts to about $52 per month for typical electric ratepayers, while the PUC Chairman Ron Gerwatowski said that low income ratepayers would see a small rate decrease compared to last winter.

Protestors, organized by the Poor People’s Campaign, the George Wiley Center and others rallied before and during the session in the PUC offices in Warwick, calling in vain on the panel to put off the rate requests to conduct in-depth reviews.

At a public hearing last week, Gerwatowski, the PUC chairman said the rate request was the highest he’d seen in his 35 years in the industry. He said rate increases in neighboring Massachusetts were nearly double those requested in Rhode Island, but attributed that to differences in the way power purchasing rules are set in the two states. He also warned that ratepayers could expect to pay even more for power costs next winter.

Doren James of Lincoln called out the RI Public Utilities Commission as members voted to raise gas and electricity rates September 23, 2022. Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News