Central Hudson billing issues probe site awash with public comments – Daily Freeman

KINGSTON, NY – Public comments exploded on a public service commission online portal requesting opinions on the billing practices of Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp.

As of 2:25 p.m. Friday, and only days after the portal opened, 1,205 comments had been posted on the site designed as part of an investigation by the commission. It compares to only seven from Friday offered as part of an investigation into the utility’s handling of the February ice storm.

Central Hudson has approximately 309,000 electric customers in its service area, including 91,037 in Ulster County and more than 121,517 in Dutchess County. The Poughkeepsie-based company also serves 84,000 natural gas customers in the Mid-Hudson region.

The Public Service Commission launched the online portal on Wednesday at https://on.ny.gov/3DsikKl for the public to comment on “Central Hudson’s customer information system implementation and resulting billing errors”.

Last week, the Public Service Commission announced its audit of billing estimating issues as well as a separate review of Central Hudson’s response to February’s winter storm that left more than 67,000 homes and businesses without electricity, most in Ulster County, and is investigating ongoing billing issues related to the company’s recent upgrade to a new billing system which has resulted in many customers not receiving their monthly bills in a timely manner.

Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan had urged residents to participate in the comments section of the commission’s portal.

On Friday, Ryan said in a statement that the number of comments was warranted.

“As Ulster County Executive, I will continue to use my office to advocate on behalf of all of our residents,” Ryan said. “The failure to implement Central Hudson’s new billing system along with the unexpected and unprecedented bill increases are simply unacceptable.”

Ryan wrote a letter to the Public Service Commission the 3 of March citing Ulster County residents’ concerns ranging from bills not being received for months, to grossly overstated bills, to large automatic withdrawals from customer accounts without notice. Since September, at least 11,000 Central Hudson electricity customers have experienced billing issues, Ryan said.

The Public Service Commission review comes at a time when a Senate committee, led by State Senator James Skoufis, D-Cornwall, is investigating soaring electricity bills.

Asked about the comments, Joseph Jenkins, a spokesman for Central Hudson, said the company would cooperate with investigations.

“We are actively working with Public Service Commission staff to resolve the underlying issues associated with billing and high energy supply costs,” Jenkins said in an email. “Our team continues to work and resolve issues associated with the billing system.”

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston, who has been a vocal critic of Central Hudson, said the comments reflected extreme community angst.

“The Fortis/Central Hudson issues remain the top concern for voters coming to our office for the sixth or seventh week in a row,” Cahill said in an email. “Our staff are working diligently to resolve issues, connect customers with a responsible person in the business and take statements from anyone who wishes to register.

“It’s no surprise that the Public Service Commission is inundated with complaints from Fortis/Central Hudson customers,” Cahill added. “Outrageous bills, ridiculous discrepancies in actual meter readings, unfamiliar customer service representatives top the list of issues their ratepayers are asked to deal with. At a time when commodity (gas and electric) costs are more volatile than ever in recent memory, accurate and timely billing is more important than ever and that’s exactly when Fortis/Central Hudson makes us the most lacking.

Additionally, Cahill said he was trying to secure $1.5 million in the state budget for the Public Utility Law Project, an advocacy group that opposes public utilities.

“The few dollars we’re asking for in the budget pale in comparison to the tens of millions that PULP has saved taxpayers across New York State through their scholarly intervention,” Cahill said.

“This era of callous investor-owned utilities and weak oversight by the Civil Service Commission has led to outrageous delivery charges, irresponsible practices, understaffing of utilities, resulting in a lack of unprecedented reliability and unaffordable gas and electricity bills.”

In February, Central Hudson said projected impacts to the natural gas bill were expected to average an increase of about 19%; about 46% for electricity bills; and about 29% for combined electricity and natural gas bills. In early March, Central Hudson said residential electricity prices starting Friday, March 11 in the Mid-Hudson area would be 46% lower per kilowatt hour than the previous month. On Thursday, the utility said natural gas prices are expected to rise in April.

Still, energy prices are expected to rise through the end of this year, the utility said. Natural gas supply prices are also expected to rise.

In addition, Central Hudson’s electricity and gas delivery charges will increase in July.

In November, the PSC said Central Hudson’s revenue from power delivery will decrease by $1.1 million in the first year of the new rates and increase by $8 million and $8.7 million the second and third years, respectively. The utility’s gas delivery revenue is expected to increase by $3.9 million in year one, $3.9 million in year two and $4 million in year three, the commission said.

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