Scorn the utility ratepayers of the Hudson Valley at your own risk.
Simmering discontent following a NYS Public Service Commission report which catalogued thousands of billing errors has reached a boiling point. Politicos national, state and local are calling for the head of Charles Freni, the embattled CEO of Hudson Electric and Gas.
Encouraging Freni to resign in a speech Wednesday, February 1, congressmember Pat Ryan aimed his rhetorical cannon fire from the floor of the United States House of Representatives. “In response to this devastating report,” said Ryan, “Central Hudson doubled down on their deflection, denial, and deception. Rather than taking ownership of their failures, they claimed that no customers were overcharged and that nobody lost money.”
The congressmember, who was Ulster County executive at the time of the utility’s system changeover, filed the formal complaint which triggered the investigation into Central Hudson’s service irregularities.
“Because of these failures and Central Hudson’s continued unwillingness to take accountability … today I am calling on Central Hudson’s CEO Mr. Charles Freni to do the right thing and resign. We need a new leader who will improve service, finally fix these systemic problems, and start the critical work to rebuild trust. That is what the people of the Hudson Valley deserve.”
Central Hudson provides the transmission and distribution of electricity and gas in a 2600-square-mile service territory. It serves approximately 300,000 electric and 80,000 gas customers in eight counties in the mid-Hudson region.
The Canadian holding company Fortis, which reported $9.4 billion in revenue for 2021, bought Central Hudson in 2012.
“Mr. Speaker, I rise today to give voice to my constituents, who have been screwed over and ripped off by our utility company, Central Hudson,” Ryan said.
While Freni had no immediate comment, a statement released by Central Hudson after the lambasting of its CEO attempted to soothe its customers and their elected constituents.
“Central Hudson is working to ensure that customers who received bills requiring an adjustment have been made whole,” wrote Joe Jenkins, associate director for media relations. “Central Hudson continues to apologize for the unfortunate impacts that implementation of the new system has had on our customers and key stakeholders. Our number-one priority has been and remains resolution of issues with the system, and we continue to make progress.”
Will the apologies be enough? For the politicians at least, the blood is the water.
State Senator Michelle Hinchey who along with Congressman Ryan and Assemblyman Kevin Cahill in 2021 had organized a forum to receive complaints from their constituents in preparation for Ryan’s complaint to the NYSPSC contends that a year later, problems continue.
“Over the past six weeks, my office has received 70 new cases from constituents struggling with Central Hudson billing errors,” says Hinchey, “which disproves the company’s claim that its billing system has largely been resolved. We need ratepayers to be made whole, we need to codify my bill to ban estimated billing once and for all.”
Newly elected assemblymember Sarahana Shrestha also released a statement joining Ryan’s call for the CEO to resign. “Many of us have been fighting against Central Hudson’s disregard for ratepayers long before its billing errors started,” said Shrestha, “Like all other corporate utilities, the company is constantly seeking to raise its rates, increase profits for shareholders, and lobby against legislation that would get us off fossil fuels and democratize our energy system to work for the people.”
Freni, who has served as CEO since September 15, 2018, is currently a board member of Newfoundland Power, the principal distributor of electricity on the island portion of Newfoundland and Labrador as well as of the Business Council of New York State.