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Hochul warns of rising energy costs, directs utilities to work with consumers


Tue, Mar 1st 2022 02:20 pm

Electric & gas utilities directed to work with consumers facing high energy bills

√ Enhanced statewide campaign to connect low-income consumers with assistance programs

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the state's utility regulator has now sent letters to all of New York's major electric and gas utilities requiring them to increase their outreach and education efforts with New Yorkers on the continuing surge in energy supply prices and the impact it will have on utility bills, in light of the national increases to utility bills seen as a result of the rising cost of natural gases. In addition, Hochul launched an enhanced statewide campaign to increase relief efforts for low-income customers to access millions of dollars in aid.

"The extreme utility bill increases all of us are seeing are having a serious impact on our household budgets, and in response we are taking action," Hochul said. "I have directed the Department of Public Service to ensure all the major electric and gas utilities in the state work with customers and, in particular, our most vulnerable residents, to protect them from volatile pricing and educate them about resources available to them."

Hochul’s team said, “The cost of natural gas, which is used to heat homes and generate electricity, continues to rise sharply resulting in a significant increase – sometimes more than doubling – of the supply component of customer electric and/or natural gas bills as compared to prior months. These bill increases are being driven by a global increase in natural gas commodity prices due to higher domestic usage because of colder-than-normal weather, increased economic activity, and increased international demand for natural gas.”

On Feb. 11, the Public Service Commission (PSC) sent a letter to Con Edison, the state's largest utility, urging it to review its billing practices and better communicate with its customers. On Feb. 25, Con Edison responded and said it will adjust its billing process to reduce the likelihood of significant customer bill volatility. Con Edison also said it would improve its communication with electric and gas customers.

The PSC has issued letters to all of the state's other major electric and gas utilities calling on them to take steps to communicate proactively, protect customers, and mitigate costs impacts wherever possible, including through a variety of buying methods and hedges, as well as promote consumer payment assistance plans and programs to reduce energy usage.

Separately, Hochul called on the state's heating oil and propane suppliers to also be proactive in terms of increasing consumer awareness of options to reduce home heating bills.

Millions of Dollars in Heating Utility Assistance Available

To address the increase in supply prices, Hochul  launched an enhanced statewide effort led by the Department of Public Service (DPS) and Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) to raise awareness of the various assistance programs available to help struggling New Yorkers pay heating and utility expenses.

These programs are designed to help avoid potential service interruptions throughout the remainder of the winter season. They include the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), which can provide up to $751 to eligible homeowners and renters depending on income, household size and how they heat their home. A family of four may have a maximum gross monthly income of $5,249, or an annual gross income of $62,983, and still qualify for benefits. So far, 1.5 million regular HEAP benefits have been received by eligible households, totaling $216 million.

New York state is also providing $250 million in additional federal funding to help low-income households pay heating utility arrears up to $10,000 per household. So far, almost 115,000 regular arrears supplement benefits have been issued, and $183 million in arrears have been paid off for eligible households.

$90 million in federal funding through emergency HEAP was made available to help low- and middle-income New Yorkers avoid having their home heating disconnected or exhausting their heating source amid fuel price increases. Currently, $58 million in funding remains available to help low- and middle-income New Yorkers avoid having their home heating disconnected or exhausting their heating source amid fuel price increases this winter.

An increase in the budget for the statewide energy affordability policy program by the PSC in 2021 from $237.6 million to $366.7 million, and expanded eligibility, resulted in about 95,000 more low-income customers able to receive benefits. Since September 2021, approximately $183 million in bill discounts were issued by utilities to eligible customers.

In addition, residential consumers can inquire with their utility provider about billing options that allow for deferred payments, or “budget billing,” to even out utility bills that are higher in one season and lower in another. This can help structure payments to make it easier to navigate costs.

For low-income households facing no-heat situations, OTDA is also accepting applications for its heating equipment repair or replacement benefit. Eligible homeowners can now apply for up to $3,000 for repair, or $6,500 for replacement, of a furnace, boiler or other direct heating equipment necessary to keep the household's primary heating source working. Additionally, eligible households can receive energy efficiency services, which includes the cleaning of primary heating equipment to allow for safe and efficient operation. Interested households can apply with their local HEAP contact.

In addition to bill payment assistance, customers are also urged to enroll in energy efficiency programs to help reduce energy consumption, lower bills overtime, and improve the health, comfort and safety of their home. Residents can learn more about available programs and resources at www.energyadvisor.ny.gov or https://hcr.ny.gov/weatherization.

PSC Chair Rory M. Christian said, "While the PSC and the utilities cannot control supply prices, utilities can strengthen their communications to consumers to ensure they are offering all possible consumer protections and make them aware of every available assistance program."

OTDA Acting Commissioner Daniel W. Tietz said, "The spike in energy prices has affected everyone, but has been particularly difficult for low-income households, working families and older New Yorkers. The Home Energy Assistance Program can provide vital relief to eligible households that are facing a greater share of their family budgets going to their heating bills during these cold winter months."

Increased Consumer Education and Awareness

Hochul’s team said, “The PSC and DPS will continue to proactively warn customers of projected increases in supply prices, potential impacts to customers' utility bills, and the assistance programs that are available. These efforts, in coordination with the state's electric and gas utilities, will include press releases, newsletters, utility call center representative training, YouTube videos, and social media posts.

“Additionally, DPS and utilities will continue to remind customers about the consumer protections that are in place including under the New York State Home Energy Fair Practices Act, which has comprehensive protections for residential customers regarding their utility services. These rights include the option to pay bills in installments, a cap on late fees, sufficient notice prior to shut-off of services, and protections for those on a fixed income or with medical conditions. Learn about these from DPS at AskPSC.

“OTDA continues to work with its local government partners, utilities and heating fuel providers to ensure potentially eligible households are aware of assistance available to help New Yorkers cope with high heating costs.

“The PSC is committed to making sure customers are aware of these programs to receive the assistance and information they need to effectively manage their energy bills.”

For more information on winter preparedness efforts and these assistance programs, visit www.dps.ny.gov/winter. To enroll in the Energy Affordability Policy utility bill discount program, customers should contact their individual utility:

Con Edison Customers: Con Ed

Orange & Rockland Customers: O&R

National Grid Customers: National Grid

National Fuel Gas Customers: NFG

NYSEG Customers: NYSEG

Rochester Gas & Electric Customers: RGE

PSEG-LI Customers: PSEG

Central Hudson Customers: CH

For more information on OTDA's available assistance programs, visit https://otda.ny.gov/programs/heap/.

Reducing New York's Reliance on Fossil Fuels

Hochul’s team said, “Recent increases in energy supply costs are a painful reminder that the state remains overly reliant on fossil fuels to meet our energy needs. This dependence on fossil fuel is contributing to climate change and air pollution, but, as this experience shows, it is also exposing consumers to global commodity price fluctuations. We must continue working together to advance the state's Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels that are subject to dramatic price swings experienced this winter.”

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