As Bay Staters prepare for steep rate hikes in their electric bills this winter, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said relief may be on the way.
Healey’s office convened utility companies, as well as state administrators and regulators, on Wednesday, the same day National Grid announced skyrocketing natural gas prices — linked to the war in Ukraine — will trigger a 64% increase in monthly residential bills starting this November.
Customers can expect a $293 monthly bill for the 2022-2023 winter season, compared to $179 last year, National Grid said in a news release.
“This is devastating — devastating for residents, devastating for many of our small businesses,” Healey, the Democratic nominee for governor, told reporters Thursday afternoon in Boston after she toured the Verizon Innovation Center.
In an interim solution, Healey urged Bay Staters to contact their utility companies about creating payment plans.
Speaking in her AG capacity, Healey signaled the commonwealth could also follow the example set by New Hampshire, where lawmakers expanded eligibility for a fuel assistance program through a mixture of federal and state funds. Massachusetts officials should consider that approach, Healey said.
The dramatic price jump underscores Massachusetts must transition away from natural gas, Healey said.
“Another thing that my office is encouraging is a look at how we actually procure and purchase energy,” Healey said. “I think we could, as a state, change the way some of that is procured or purchased that would help smooth out some of the volatility and sticker-shock that we’ve seen.”
But she ridiculed her Republican rival for governor, Geoff Diehl, for attributing the price increase to officials’ disproportionate focus on renewable energy sources while ruling out existing options.
“He’s absolutely wrong,” Healey told reporters, as she instead framed the war in Ukraine, particularly its impact on global markets, as an impetus for Massachusetts to expand its portfolio of energy sources.
“That is absolutely essential so that we have access to solar, wind, storage, hydro and other energy sources,” Healey said. “What we need to do is be less dependent on fossil fuels. But in the meantime, we’re going to do everything we can — we must — to try to soften the blow for residents and businesses here.”
Diehl, in a news release issued later Thursday, demanded the Massachusetts Legislature scrutinize taxes and fees tied to customer utility bills — and potentially, reduce or suspend them.
Massachusetts must do “all it can” to slash prices for families, Diehl said.
“In the context of soaring energy bills that will leave many Massachusetts residents struggling to heat their homes this winter, I think it is important for the Legislature to take a fresh look at any tariffs and fees imposed on customer bills and to find out if some of these programs could be paused or reworked to save rate payers money,” Diehl said in a statement. “Not all tariffs are imposed at the state level, and even if all were to be removed it wouldn’t solve all utility cost issues.”
Secretary of State Bill Galvin separately on Thursday called for the Legislature to create a $50 million home heating oil reserve for middle- and low-income residents.
That funding, which Galvin said should be overseen by state Treasurer Deb Goldberg, would allow Massachusetts to buy its home heating oil supply, make “guarantees” to fuel wholesalers, and provide financial assistance to struggling Bay Staters.
“With the transition in the governor’s office coming during the coldest month of the year, we need to be planning for this potential crisis now,” Galvin said in a statement. “If prices remain high, this could be catastrophic for the working poor and middle class families who are already struggling to keep up with all of the other issues caused by inflation. Purchasing oil right now is a risk that many private companies aren’t willing to take, but it’s a risk the state needs to take to ensure our residents can survive the winter.”
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