Now, about that rate hike

New Yorkers ought to be looking forward to a hearing regarding National Grid's request for a $396 million rate increase later this fall with an eagerness that matches the dread with which they might open their utility bills come winter.

The increase in electric rates that the British-based company is seeking isn't such a routine matter anymore, not since news got out about how it was trying to pass on millions of dollars in ostentatious spending and questionable expenses to its upstate New York customers.

Things like political junkets for National Grid executives, overseas shipments of their wine collections and private school tuition for their children already are the subject of an investigation by the state Public Service Commission as it weighs whether to grant the rate increase. That's arduous work, done in the background, perhaps by outside consultants and auditors.

The affairs of the company that many New Yorkers have no choice but to rely on for electricity and natural gas service deserves a more public scrutiny as well. It's true that National Grid has withdrawn $4 million in expenses from its proposal for a rate increase. But it also is fair to wonder if the company's request might be further modified. The PSC, after all, says the dubious spending by National Grid comes to more like $26 million.

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