On January 18th, along with Poughkeepsie-based Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson (NLMH), CLP delivered over 1,500 postcards from Central Hudson residential customers to the Public Service Commission (PSC), presenting “New Year’s resolutions” for the Commission to consider when deciding the Central Hudson rate case, expected in late spring.
As the postcard states, “It’s a New Year, a new chance to fix our electricity rates!” The proposed New Year’s resolutions for the PSC include rejecting utility rate hike requests and reducing fixed charges. At $24, Central Hudson’s fixed charge is the highest in the state and among the highest nationally. The utility has proposed to increase the charge further, to $25. The resolutions also included a call for more public hearings on Central Hudson’s rate hike to allow for broader public participation.
“The New Year’s postcards are a playful way to convey a very serious concern of our communities about ever-increasing utility rates and persistently high fixed charges,” said CLP Director Jen Metzger. “The rate cases currently under review offer the Commission a unique opportunity to advance the goals of the Governor’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) Initiative in a way that will lower costs for most customers. Few other reforms contemplated to date could have a more sweeping impact on the ability of New Yorkers to control costs by managing energy use.” Adorned with festive New Year’s hats, members of CLP presented the New Year’s postcards to PSC Secretary Kathleen Burgess in the moments before the PSC’s official monthly meeting got underway at 10:30 am.
High fixed charges constrain the ability of residents and small businesses to control their energy bills by using less since all customers pay the same fixed charge regardless of how much energy they use. High fixed charges are particularly burdensome for low and moderate income customers, who tend to use less energy than average.
“It is inequitable to have all customers pay the same fixed high charge regardless of how much energy they use, and this disproportionately hurts low-income people,” said Jonathan Bix, Executive Director of Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, whose organization partnered with CLP in the postcard campaign. “In 2016, New Yorkers below the poverty line paid three to five times more for their energy bills than what’s affordable, continued Bix. “Reducing the fixed charge is a necessary part of tackling New York’s energy affordability crisis.”
In the last Central Hudson rate case, in 2015, CLP argued against increasing the fixed charge, and in an unusual move, the Public Service Commission decided against the settlement agreement reached among the parties to raise that charge, citing CLP’s comments and keeping the rate at the previous level of $24. In the current rate case, CLP has proposed a step-down in Central Hudson’s fixed portion of the bill over three years, reducing it from $24 to $20 in the next rate year, followed by a reduction to $15 in the following rate year and $10 in the third year. A greater share of the utility’s revenue needs would be met through the kWh charge, which would give customers more control over their energy costs. According to an analysis by CLP, about 60% of customers would see an immediate bill reduction if this is implemented.
Across the state, consumer, energy, and environmental organizations are calling for reducing New York utilities’ high fixed charges. In October 2017, as part of the National Grid rate case, Acadia Center submitted to the PSC Joint Principles on Residential Fixed Charges in New York, signed by 53 organizations. The following month, CLP filed a letter in the Central Hudson rate case signed by over 130 local elected officials urging the Commission to take action to reduce the fixed. More information on the fixed charge issue can be found at www.lowerfixedcharges.org.