Green Mountain Power customers will pay slightly less for their electricity next year before rates rise 5.43 percent in September, according to a ruling from state utility regulators.
The Public Utility Commission said the rate hike is justified because the state’s largest power company faces increasing costs, including wholesale transmission charges. But GMP’s 265,000 customers will not see the increase until September. Until then, a windfall from corporate tax cuts will actually result in a nearly 1 percent decrease.
The state advocate for ratepayers argued that GMP should not be allowed to charge ratepayers for $13 million dollars in investments in energy storage projects and heat pump water heaters. The PUC largely disagreed, and allowed most of those investments to be recovered in rates.
Attorney Dan Burke argued the case for the Department of Public Service. He said the PUC did signal that these types of investments will get a closer look in future cases.
“We were very focused on ensuring that regulatory framework is set up to ensure that balance between shareholder and ratepayer interests are protected through the regulatory process,” he said. “And we do think this order lays the framework in future cases for ensuring that ratepayers are going to have adequate safeguards and protections.”
Kristin Carlson, GMP’s vice president for regulatory and legal affairs, said the order reflects the utility’s push to innovate in energy-storing technology. Carlson said the investments in energy storage will benefit customers by reducing peak demand, when the cost of power is the highest.
The order “was a pretty resounding direction from the PUC that it is important that utilities innovate to drive down costs for customers and cut carbon because we’re in a time of increasing frequency and severity from climate change,” she said. “And that is what the innovative programs do. And that is what GMP is going to continue to do.”
The PUC order mentions a letter from an anonymous whistleblower who alleged that the Department of Public Service was too cozy with GMP, and failed to aggressively pursue protections for ratepayers. The PUC took the unusual step of posting the anonymous letter on its website and invited comments from the public.
“The comments reflect significant disagreements about regulatory policy and the best strategy for protecting the interests of Vermonters in this proceeding,” the PUC said. “The comments did not provide a basis for the commission to conclude that the record in this case was inadequate to determine just and reasonable rates, and none of the comments recommended that the commission reopen the record in this proceeding.”
James Porter, the director for public advocacy at the Department of Public Service, noted that the department waived attorney-client privilege and posted thousands of documents in the case on its website. “I think those documents stand for themselves and the job of advocacy that the department performed,” he said.