Utility Proposes Rate Hike Despite Questionable Expenses by Executives

6:06 PM, Oct 21, 2010   |    comments
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WGRZ) -- National Grid is asking the Public Service Commission to approve a nearly $400 million rate increase for electric service in WNY despite recent revelations that the company spent millions on lavish expenses for company executives.

State Senator George Maziarz (R-62nd District) held a hearing in the Energy Committee Tuesday to, as he put it, hold National Grid's "feet to the fire."

National Grid paid $35,700 to send an employee's children to private school, $8,440 on a holiday cocktail party, $1,254 to ship an executive's wine collection from Britain to America and $1,208 to fly an executive's cat to the U.S., among other expenses.

"It was insidious, obscene," Senator Maziarz said. "I can't think of enough negative adjectives to describe it. I was extremely angry."

During Maziarz's hearing, National Grid's U.S. chief executive apologized.

"This never should have happened," Thomas King said. "And we are doing everything we can to make sure that it doesn't happen again."

King said his company will exclude the questionable expenses, reducing the requested hike by several million dollars; however, Maziarz said any increase during these tough economic times is unwarranted. Maziarz said Western New York already pays some of the highest energy costs in the country.

"I think zero is the right number, particularly for Upstate New York."

Maziarz asked the PSC to hire an independent auditor to examine National Grid's books to look for other superfluous expenses; the PSC agreed.

National Grid has not received a rate increase in nine years. King said the company is not receiving enough in delivery cost from the Niagara Mohawk area to cover the expenses. Maziarz disagreed and said a closer look at the company's financial breakdown may reveal consumer's are actually due a refund.

With so much on the line, many were surprised to learn seven of the 11 state senators on the committee never showed up to the hearing, and only Maziarz lasted the entire time.

"Where was everyone else?" asked 2 On Your Side's Michael Wooten. Maziarz responded, "You know, I don't know. I imagine it's kind of a busy time, but I thought this was important. I drove to Albany and drove back in one day."

2 On Your Side called every one of the seven senators who didn't go to the hearing to ask how important these potential rate increases were to them and residents across the state.
Only one returned our calls; Senator Eric Schneiderman who is running for New York Attorney General. He said "New Yorkers shouldn't foot the bill for lavish [extras]", but didn't say why he wasn't at the hearing.

No one else would comment, even though several of their re-election websites stated getting rid of abuse, waste and holding businesses and each other accountable were a top priority.

These lavish reimbursements come after a report released last year by the society of civil engineers which gave all U.S. power grids a "D +" grade. The general consensus; millions in improvements are needed.

If you would like to express support or opposition to National Grid's rate hike proposal, send 2 On Your Side an email and we'll be sure to pass your comments on to The Public Service Commission and National Grid. The Public Service Commission is expected to make a decision in January.

You can also write to them yourself;

Your comments should refer to "Case 10-E-0050 - Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation d/b/a National Grid - Electric Rates."

Write to: Honorable Jaclyn A. Brilling, Secretary, NYS Public Service Commission, Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY 12223-1350.

Submit comments electronically: by accessing the Department's website - http://www.dps.state.ny.us. Click on "Electric" and "National Grid Electric Rate Case" and fill in the "PSC Comment Form." Many libraries offer free Internet access.

Call: the Department's Toll-Free Opinion Line at 1-800-335-2120. This number is designed to take comments about pending cases from in-state callers 24 hours a day. Callers should press "1" to leave comments regarding "Electric Issues."

Attend: the public hearings.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010
4:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Common Council Chambers
65 Niagara Square
Room 1413
Buffalo, NY 14202

Visit the Public Service Commission's website for more.

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