5 Vt. utilities ask state regulators for rate hikes

Published: Jan. 6, 2023 at 6:02 PM EST
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STOWE, Vt. (WCAX) - Keeping the lights on in Stowe is going to get more expensive starting next month as the town’s utility raises its rates for the second time in less than six months. But they’re not alone -- five other electric companies have requested rate increases from Vermont regulators.

Stowe Electric, Burlington Electric, Washington Electric Co-op, Vermont Electric Co-op, and Morrisville Water & Light are all attempting to increase their utility rates with numbers ranging from around 4% all the way up to over 14%. Utility officials say they need the increase to meet the rising cost of purchasing power from natural gas plants.

“The main driver of rate increases that we’re seeing today in the power industry is really due to the Russian war in Ukraine. In New England, even though we have a strong renewable energy market, rates and costs are still primarily driven by natural gas,” said Stowe Electric’s Jackie Pratt.

It’s the second time in the last half year that Stowe has raised its rates. Last August, the company implemented a 13% increase to take effect in February. With the latest request, customers will see a total increase of over 24%

“For the average customer using 600-kilowatt hours of electricity in a month, it’s going to increase from about $124.26 TO $138.57, so a change of about $14 a month,” Pratt said.

Morrisville’s utility, like Stowe, serves more than 4,000 customers and hasn’t raised its rates in over 10 years. “Over that course of time, of course, all of our costs have risen. And so for us has been normal inflation, the cost of labor, wages. More recently, power supply has gone back up a lot and is now very expensive,” said the utility’s Scott Johnstone. And he adds they’ll probably need a second increase in 18 to 24 months.

The Vermont Department of Public Service says power supply, or what the utilities are having to pay for power, has increased over the past year and that the department’s current stance is that the pending increase requests are sound.

Johnstone says the rate increases are a necessary inconvenience. “The challenge is, could you pick a worse time? Every bill we’ve all got is going up. So, if we could control the system and pick a different time and still be able to deliver reliable energy to people to make sure that the lights stay on, we would pick a different time. It just is unfortunate,” he said.

Green Mountain Power, the state’s largest utility, says they will not be increasing rates in the new year because their costs are already set, and that any review of costs for the consumer wouldn’t happen until October.

The increases for the other five utilities are subject to approval by the Vermont Public Utility Commission.