HARDWICK – Hardwick Electric Department (HED) recently filed for a 1.97% rate increase, less than a year after its requested 13.03% rate increase was rejected by the Vermont Public Utility Commission (PUC). The approved 5.57% went into effect March 1, 2023. If approved, this one is scheduled to take effect March 7.
This week, HED General Manager, Mike Sullivan, commented “…we requested a 13% rate increase last year, and only got 5.5%. This, along with new known and measurable increases, pushed the board of commissioners to file for a 2% increase a couple weeks ago.”
Customers were recently mailed a letter titled, “Customer Notice: Rate Change” The notice continues, “The primary drivers of the rate change include increases in the cost [of] transmission by others and increases in personnel related operating costs.”
The letter provides several ways to comment on the proposed increase.
There was only one comment recorded on the PUC web site as of January 28. That comment, from Kerry Sulham, stated, “We strongly disagree with Hardwick Electric raising their rates. We are barely scraping by with the existing bill at $200 to 250 per month. How does this company think that anyone can afford more? We are doing everything we can to keep our energy use down. Please reject their rate increase.”
In a more detailed letter accompanying the PUC rate filing, HED stated, “Hardwick works hard to minimize upward rate pressure while ensuring the ability to reliably and safely serve our customers, today and into the future. This proposed rate increase seeks to balance current cost pressures, whose continued upward trajectory is uncertain, the need to carefully maintain and invest in electric infrastructure and a commitment to closely manage operating costs, including the strategic use of available FEMA funds and long term financing to safely minimize the impact on customers.”
It continues, “Since 2009, Hardwick ratepayers will [sic] have experienced three rate increases including this one; 7.81% in 2009, 5.57% in 2023, and 1.97% in 2024 indicating a compound growth in rates over the 16 year period of 0.9%.
That slow rate of increase is, at least in part, due to one of the largest embezzlement cases in Vermont history and not entirely to the cost of providing electric service. The first increase noted above, in 2009, was just a year before it was discovered that an employee had embezzled $1.67M. At that time, Hardwick Electric’s rates were almost the highest in the state. Over the intervening years rate increases have not been needed as HED has recovered enough of the embezzled funds to cover both losses and attorney’s fees. Even now HEDs rates are slightly below those of Green Mountain Power, Vemont’s largest electric utility, and well below those of Washington Electric Coop.
Future rate increases may be on tap, as HED writes in the filing that their Lamoille river hydro plant east of Wolcott suffered significant damage. They state; “Due to uncertainty regarding the final cost of these recovery/rebuild efforts, the degree of FEMA financial support, and the magnitude and timing of necessary long-term financing, Hardwick has chosen to exclude these uncertain costs from this filing. The document goes on to suggest a full rate case may be in the offing, which is a significant undertaking for an electric utility that is often undertaken when PUC approval is wanted for a significant rate increase.
For now though, the combined 7.54% effect of this latest request and last year’s increase is well below last year’s 13% request that was rejected by the PUC.
Questions regarding the rate change proposal may be directed to the electric department’s offices in person or by phone at: Hardwick Electric Department, 123 N. Main St, Hardwick, VT 05843 (802) 472-520.
Comments regarding the proposed rate change may also be directed to: the Vermont Public Utility Commission, via email at [email protected] or via the PUC’s electronic filing system, which can be found at epuc.vermont.gov/ using Case No. 24-0152-TF.
Comments may also be submitted by regular mail to Vermont Public Utility Commission, 112 State Street, Montpelier, Vermont 05620-2701. or The Department of Public Service, Consumer Affairs and Public Information Division at (800) 622-4496 or via email at [email protected]