Businesses that purchase electricity or natural gas from NSTAR or Western Massachusetts Electric Company could see the distribution portion of their bills drop by as much as 14 percent as Massachusetts ends the practice of commercial/industrial customers subsidizing the power system to the tune of tens of millions of dollars each year.
While individual bills may vary, commercial/industrial electric customers in NSTAR and Western Mass Electric Company territories (both operating companies of Northeast Utilities) will collectively see reductions of more than 20 million dollars on the distribution portion of their bills. Some customer classes will see reductions as high as 7 percent in NSTAR territories and as high as 14 percent in Western Massachusetts Electric territory.
These are permanent reductions resulting from changes in the way costs are allocated.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) approved the new NSTAR and Western Massachusetts Electric rates late last month effective January 1. Customers in National Grid and Unitil territories will see changes over the next few months, as will gas customers in all utility territories.
“The law and the new rates usher in a fair and efficient energy system in Massachusetts,” said Richard C. Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.
“AIM and other business groups - including the Western Mass Industrial group, PowerOptions and the the Energy Consortium - along with the office of the Attorney General acting in her role as the ratepayer advocate, participated extensively in the DPU process, submitting testimony and filing comments to ensure the intent of the law was carried out.”
The change in the law corrected a longstanding problem with the way electric and gas costs were allocated to customers.
Under the previous rate-making process, medium and large commercial and industrial (C&I) customers saw the “distribution” portion of their electric and gas bills - the part that reimburses electric and gas utilities for the cost of maintaining their infrastructure – rise dramatically. Some of the price increases were driven by “reconciling factors,” also known as “trackers” that are costs over which the utility has little or no control - pension adjustments, smart grid pilots, net metering, capital investments, storm costs, and some low-income programs.
The Department of Public Utilities historically ordered that these “tracker” costs be paid by ratepayers on a volumetric basis - the more energy a customer used the more the customer paid – even though there was no cost causation between the amount of energy a customer used and the reconciliation factor revenue requirement.
The policy has resulted over time in an unfair cross-subsidy of tens of millions of dollars per year.
The new law required the DPU to order each utility to identify trackers (there were several within each utility) and change the way each is allocated to reflect the true cost of providing the service to customers, regardless of how much energy is used. Each customer class pays only that portion of these reconciliation factors based on the relative cost of the rate class on the distribution system.
“AIM would like to thank the legislature, particularly Representative John Keenan and Senator Ben Downing and the Attorney General for their roles in ensuring that real rate reform and fairness is now embedded in utility rate design,” Lord said.