- Associated Press - Saturday, February 22, 2020

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - The utility Eversource says it needs to raise rates in New Hampshire for the first time in a decade to recoup the cost of making its system more resilient and to upgrade its grid to better handle renewables in the future.

But senior citizens in the state are having none of it.

Led by the AARP, seniors have been inundating the Public Utilities Commission, opposing the request they say would increase rates for nearly 450,000 residential customers by almost 24%. The AARP has called for the rate hike to be rejected.Thegroup also is opposed to other lesser charges, such as a new surcharge and a slight increase in what is called the customer charge.

The commission is expected to decide on the rate proposal by May.

“This is a pocketbook issue for older New Hampshire residents and their families, many of whom struggle to balance paying utility bills and other household expenses along with buying food and medicine,” AARP New Hampshire State Director Todd Fahey said.

The state’s Consumer Advocate D. Maurice Kreis argued the rate increase should be about half of what Eversource proposed.

Kreis said Eversource’s portrayal of its rate increase was misleading. Rather than focusing on the actual rate increase, Eversource highlighted that residential bills as a whole would go up only 4.6%, or $5.68, on average for residential customers.

“There are lots of reason to think that Eversource is basically overinvesting,” Kreis said. said. “The way utilities make money is that they buy toys. … They recover those investments and earn a return on those investments. That recovery is what drives rates.”

Eversource countered that the bill is what customers care about and that focusing on the rate increase and other charges in isolation is misleading. The company acknowledged it hoped to raise $136 million by 2023 through the rate increase.But whenconsidered as part of the overall bill, the company says the percentage increase would be significantly less than what is being portrayed by AARP.

The company also justified the rates by showing how customers have benefited from a more dependable network. In 2019, Eversource said customers in New Hampshire saw nearly 38% fewer outages compared to 2018.

“At Eversource, we’re focused on innovative solutions that lower costs for our customers, improve reliability and advance clean energy,” William Hinkle, a company spokesman, said in a statement. “Continued investments in strengthening the electric grid will help build on the progress we’ve made to achieve those goals and create the electric system needed to reliably and seamlessly connect more clean energy resources that customers want onto our system.”

So far,around 100 customerswho have submitted testimony to the commission have largely come out against it. Many residents echoed AARP’s talking points, saying the increase would unfairly burden older residents.

“This is getting out of hand,”Laurie Campbell Morin,a customer from Manchester, wrote to the commission, saying her electric bill doubled this winter. “Please stand up and say no to this increase. When you live pay check to pay check, this couldn’t come at a worse time.”

Glenn Lepene, a 69-year-old resident from Rochesterwho submitted a letter to the commission , also said in an interview that he was concerned about some of the smaller increases like the fixed customer charge which would increase from $13.81 to $13.89 and other charges.

“My concern is for the average Joe, the average elderly person,” Lepene said. “It’s an affordability issue on top of everything else you face in life.”

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