Unrigging the Power Game

I get a faux-friendly email almost weekly from National Grid, the British multinational that provides my gas and electricity. It reminds me to turn down my thermostat to save money. Because National Grid successfully lobbied Rhode Island regulators to decouple usage from revenue, no matter how much I turn down the thermostat, National Grid will still profit. The game is rigged.

For the past year and a half, we in the Providence, Rhode Island, chapter of DSA (ProvDSA) have waged a campaign we call #NationalizeGrid—a call to replace National Grid with a publicly owned utility that is democratically controlled, treats workers fairly, and allows us to have a just transition to renewable energy sources. Boston DSA recently voted to start its own Nationalize Grid campaign.

The current system allows National Grid to make billions in profits worldwide while passing its liabilities onto us, the ratepayers. Meanwhile, carbon taxes and fancy electric cars are insufficient to address the gravity of climate change. Decoupling National Grid’s revenue from usage doesn’t address the root causes of climate change and only allows National Grid to continue to extract vast amounts of money from those who can least afford it.

We know we won’t win publicly owned utilities overnight, but it won’t happen unless we organize. We’ve been building power with those most directly affected by the high cost of energy. Constant rate hikes have made National Grid’s rates the highest in the continental United States. We’ve been working hand in hand with the George Wiley Center, a grassroots anti-poverty organization that organizes low-income people. Together, ProvDSA and the George Wiley Center fought National Grid’s proposed rate hikes in the spring of 2018. The company got more than we’d have liked, but less than it requested. Now we’re advocating for the state legislature to pass a Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) which would allow low-income folks to pay a percentage of their income toward their utility bills, making the utility system less regressive and reducing the number of shutoffs.