Though some households have recently been socked with utility bills two, three or even more times higher than their previous bills, the price surge has almost nothing to do with the outages 60,000 Ulster County customers suffered in the paralyzing early-February ice storm. And consumers shouldn’t expect to receive even higher bills in the future because of those outages.
As New York State’s power utilities have not been shy in reminding us, utility bills consist of three cost elements: service, power and taxes.
Last November, the Public Services Commission (the state regulator) and the utilities agreed to a formula for service for the next three years. That’s a fixed cost.
On the other hand, service costs such as those accruing from the ice storm are on the utilities’ dime. The costs of power are immediately passed on by the utilities to the consumers. A colder winter and the high price of natural gas are to blame for the most part for what the utilities bill the consumers.
That doesn’t make the situation any easier for those who find astronomical increases when they open their latest utility bills. All the utilities offer in their responses to difficulties in payment are plans that postpone the day of financial reckoning.
Governor Kathy Hochul urged the main downstate utility, Con Edison, to review its billing practices and better communicate with New Yorkers. She said millions of dollars in aid would be made available top low-income New Yorkers.
“The extreme utility bill increases we are seeing across the state come at a time when New Yorkers are already struggling financially following the Covid 19 pandemic,” Hochul said. “Even though the spike we are seeing in electricity, natural gas and fuel prices were predicted and are due to severe winter weather, I am calling on Con Ed to review their billing practices because we must take unified action to provide relief for New Yorkers, especially our most vulnerable residents.”