BERLIN — In a highly unusual move, the Town of Berlin has received permission from the Public Service Commission (PSC) to reduce all non-residential electric rates, equating to an 11.5 percent average savings for businesses.
Following a similar reduction to residential rates earlier in the year, Berlin has been working for months to offer non-residential customers the same service. Because lowering the rates would mean a $270,583 loss of revenue to the town annually, the action had to be run by the PSC for approval. It’s the commission’s job to police how municipalities alter rates. Attorney Jill Parker represented Berlin before the PSC over the rate change and confirmed that the commission quickly agreed to everything in the town’s application with only a few conditions. She added the entire organization seemed shocked that Berlin was purposefully attempting to lower rates.
“Nobody at the commission could ever remember dealing with a rate decrease,” said Parker, noting that the PSC did “everything they could to expedite” Berlin’s request.
The commission did have one condition for approval, asking that money be set aside to help residents both weatherize their homes and have money in a fund to help low-income households who might need assistance with their electric bills. Berlin already has funds for both in place and the request from the PSC would only mean adding additional money to them over the next three years, to the tune of $3,000 the first year with a $1,000 escalation every subsequent year. At the end of those three years, any excess money will be refunded to all residential rate payers.
“That was the only request [the PSC] had,” said Town Administrator Tony Carson.
As of presstime yesterday, the town still had to conduct an evidentiary hearing and a public hearing to discuss the rate reduction, but it is highly unlikely that it would be opposed by commercial account holders who are set to see significant annual savings.
For the 300 smallest non-residential rate payers, the reduction is expected to result in a 10 percent, or $180, annual savings. For the 100 next largest electric users, a savings of 16 percent, or $1,900, per year is expected. Finally, the four largest users can anticipate a 2.5-percent reduction, which still equates to about $3,500 a year.
Carson called the process leading up to the PSC meeting “very long and very detailed.” He congratulated every department and employee who had worked to set up the presentation for the commission and explained that the recent approval by the PSC said a lot in terms of the economic footing of Berlin.
“The financial well-being of the town was under a microscope and we passed with flying colors,” said Carson.
Mayor Gee Williams also weighed in on the historical importance of the ruling and added to Carson’s praise of the town employees and consultants who had worked on the case.
“We’re making decisions with a lot of zeroes behind them,” he said.
Williams added that “the only minus” to living in Berlin up until this point was the town’s somewhat high non-residential electric rate. For years, both the residential and non-residential rates in Berlin were considered uncompetitive with those offered by surrounding areas.
But with the resident rate decrease earlier this year and the likely reduction of the non-residential rate looming, potentially going into effect in early November, Williams asserted that the town is looking better than ever.