Letter to the Editor: Baker lets public utilities off the hook

To the Editor:

On your gas or electric bill, there’s a notice at the bottom in fine print that indicates how much you are contributing to the MassSave energy efficiency program for residents and businesses. It was started a decade ago to help reduce energy consumption.

The idea was to create an incentive for utility companies to ensure greater equity and give low-income households access to weatherization and other energy-efficient programs.

The problem is that utilities aren’t keeping track of who gets access to energy efficiency programs that could save customers a lot of money, and there’s growing concern that renters, immigrants, seniors, and low-income families aren’t getting their fair share out of a program they’re paying into.

To find out, and to hold utilities accountable, advocates urged Governor Baker’s Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to require multibillion-dollar utility companies like Eversource, National Grid and Columbia Gas to come clean about how well they are serving our more vulnerable citizens with energy efficiency services.

But last month, the Governor’s DPU rejected our proposal that would have tied a small percentage of utilities’ $100 million performance bonus to their ability to keep track and serve renters and other vulnerable customers with services to reduce energy consumption.

The state contends that they already offer incentive payments to utilities for renters and this would constitute a double payment. But big utilities have been unwilling to produce good data about who they are really serving, so the claim is suspect. 

The Governor’s decision to let utilities off the hook is baffling and leaving renters in a lurch. We should be holding utilities accountable.
Who gets hurt the most on freezing cold New England days? Low-income families, immigrants, and vulnerable seniors, who can’t afford to keep the heat on. They’re also the ones who would benefit the most from energy efficiency savings.

Utilities have an obligation to serve all of their customers better and to encourage energy conservation. DPU isn’t supposed to be in the pocket of the utilities but rather the people whom they serve. We shouldn’t have to provide incentives to multibillion-dollar utility companies to promote energy efficiency; they should be doing it because it’s the right thing to do. But a moral conscience doesn’t always come easily to some corporations, requiring government to step in. Sadly, Governor Baker refused.

Rev. Mariama White-Hammon
and Darlene Lombos

Rev. Mariama White-Hammond is the pastor at New Roots AME Church in Dorchester. Darlene Lombos is executive director, Community Labor United and Vice President of the Greater Boston Labor Council.