Upstate New York National Grid customers could see a more expensive utility bill starting next year.

The Public Service Commission is currently hearing testimony looking at these potential rate increases over the next few months.

Bob Cohen, with Citizen Action Network, says he is worried people cannot afford these extra costs in light of the pandemic.  

"Many customers in Upstate New York, people are in economic distress, and yet National Grid wants to raise our rates at this period of time," Cohen questioned. "People can’t afford it."

The rate increases being proposed would cost the average family that relies on National Grid for both gas and electric about an extra $100 a year.

Some of this cost would go to expanding the company’s natural gas distribution system.

Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates NY, says this is exactly what the state is trying to move away from.

"We will be moving the entire economy of New York State off of all fossil fuel combustion in 30 years or less," Iwanowicz explained. "So it’s pretty mystifying that national grid is actually proposing adding in new gas customers."

The state legislature passed the New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act last year, and these laws went into effect at the beginning of this year. The goal of this act is to almost completely phase out fossil fuels by 2050 and reduce greenhouse gases by 40 percent in 10 years.

Iwanowicz, who currently sits on the Climate Action Council, says that this proposal needs to be looked at through the lens of this new law.

"So, the new climate law says that all state government has to look at these projects and determine if giving a rate hike to National Grid, if it increases more natural gas," Iwanowicz said. "That’s probably inconsistent with the law that says we’re reducing climate change emissions. So it would be really curious for me to see how the public service commission handles that new requirement in the law that they screen these things for, whether it’s consistent with our climate law or not."

According to a spokesperson for National Grid, Patrick Sella, the last time the company increased its rates was three years ago.

In a statement he wrote, "National Grid understands the challenges for our customers during the pandemic, and we are proposing $50 million in relief support to those customers who are having trouble. In addition, we also understand the concerns from an environmental standpoint and have included in our rate case proposal several energy efficiency and alternative energy initiatives to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels moving forward."

If these rates are approved by the Public Service Commission, they would go into effect in July 2021.