March 26, 2019

Chamber: National Grid delays affecting manufacturers, development

The 145 Front St. apartments were a major component of the CitySquare development.

The Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce says National Grid has been a thorn in the side of the city's economic momentum and construction projects, including for several manufacturers.

In a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities as it considers approving National Grid's request for a 2.6-percent rate hike, the chamber said several key manufacturers have voiced concerns about the utility company's inability to complete projects in a timely manner.

"This impacts manufacturers and their ability to meet the needs of their customers and plan production work accordingly," wrote Alex Guardiola, the chamber's director of government affairs and public policy.

The manufacturers referenced by Guardiola are not named. Chamber spokesperson Emily Gowdey-Backus said the chamber would not disclose which companies have complained about National Grid.

In a statement, National Grid said it appreciates the input and feedback from the Chamber.

"We fully support the wonderful work being done by the City of Worcester, Worcester Business Development Corporation and the Regional Chamber of Commerce to lead Worcester's renaissance and are committed to continuing to meet regularly in order to listen and respond to our customers and communities, while meeting the guidelines set forth within our current regulatory framework," the company said.

The Chamber's letter references the city's economic accomplishments of the last 15 years, including the $240-million Canal District project anchored by Polar Park (slated to open in 2021), the CitySquare development, Gateway Park and the South Worcester Industrial Park.

"However, this economic development momentum is at risk because of persistent challenges that developers, and property owners are having with National Grid, which is the electricity provider in the city of Worcester," Guardiola wrote.

These challenges require advocacy, intervention and engagement of the chamber and city officials to resolve due to what Guardiola called the company's ongoing staffing and customer service issues.

Other projects being impacted by the company's service is the Main Street resurfacing program and the Trolley Yard Plaza, he said.

The company said it wouldn't accept a rooftop solar project on the $22-million Fidelity Bank Ice Center despite the developer paying $30,000 for a feasibility study, according to the chamber.

"As we stated, the chamber is excited about the momentum underway in Central Massachusetts and New England's second largest city, Worcester," Guardiola wrote. "However, this momentum will not reach its full potential without a properly staffed and engaged public utility partner that embraces concepts like accountability, customer service, and a can-do spirit that businesses and consumers require to be successful."

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