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New Jersey GOP lawmakers seek to block rate increase

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(The Center Square) — New Jersey Republican lawmakers are calling on state regulators to reject a double-digit natural gas rate increase sought by the state’s largest utility company.

New Jersey Natural Gas wants to raise the amount it bills customers by $222.6 million, an amount that will help the company recoup an $850 million investment since 2021 to enhance the safety, reliability, security and environmental benefits of its delivery system and operations.

If regulators approve the plan, the monthly bill for the typical residential heating customer using 81 therms would rise by 23.6%, from $122.84 to $151.85, according to the company. The Wall, New Jersey-based utility said the proposed rate hike is based on higher wholesale natural gas prices on the global market.

But members of the Republican minority caucus are among those calling on the state Board of Public Utilities to reject the company’s request “in the strongest terms,” calling the increases “unreasonable, overly aggressive and sure to cause serious financial hardships for many of our constituents.”

“Senior citizens as well as low-middle and fixed-income residents comprise a considerable segment of our constituency and represent those most at risk of the prospect of losing their housing due simply to an inability to pay such an exorbitant rate increase for a single utility service,” state Sen. Carmen Amato and other legislators wrote in testimony submitted to regulators this week.

The GOP lawmakers said the proposed increases if approved, would only add to the state’s cost of living, which is already among the highest in the nation.

“When considering the ramifications for thousands of ratepayers who stand to have their natural gas bills spike sharply, it is clear that the Board has the responsibility to reject the unconscionable rate increase petition filed by New Jersey Natural Gas,” they wrote.

New Jersey is pushing an ambitious agenda to move its more than 9 million residents away from natural gas and gasoline to heat their homes, which is expected to increase consumer energy prices in coming years.

The state already has some of the highest energy costs in the nation, and consumer advocates say the higher prices this winter were tough on low- and even middle-income households, with the number of people behind on their bills skyrocketing.

If approved, it would be the first time in two years that natural gas rates would rise. In 2022, state utility regulators approved double-digit rate increases for the state’s four gas providers, which serve millions of customers. PSEG, which serves 1.9 million people across the state, was granted a nearly 25% increase, amounting to a $256.38 a year hike to the “typical” residential bill.

Energy industry officials have long argued that a lack of pipeline infrastructure partly constrains the Northeast’s energy market. They say the natural gas crunch has led to higher bills for ratepayers.

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