KINGSTON, NY - Ulster County Executive Jen Metzger sent a letter to the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC), calling on the Commission to hold Fortis/Central Hudson shareholders financially responsible for the company’s damaging business practices, which have harmed thousands of Ulster County residents. In the letter, County Executive Metzger called for planned debt relief for moderate-income customers and small businesses relief to be funded entirely by shareholders, with no costs passed on to already overburdened ratepayers suffering from the company’s billing fiasco.
On June 16, 2022 the Public Service Commission authorized a statewide program to assist customers struggling with unpaid utility bills due to economic hardship caused by the pandemic. The arrears program was broken into two phases, with low-income customers participating in an existing utility Energy Assistance Program–the most vulnerable of utility customers–to be prioritized for utility debt relief in Phase 1. Phase 2, which is being hammered out now, would extend forgiveness to moderate-income households and small businesses who also struggle with significant arrears. The question of who funds these arrears–the utility shareholders, ratepayers, or a combination of the two–has not yet been decided.
In her letter to the PSC, Ulster County Executive Jen Metzger wrote: “At the same time that our residents and small businesses continue to be burdened by crushing utility and energy costs and a broken utility billing system, Fortis/Central Hudson shareholders have enjoyed uninterrupted profits and increasing dividends. The only fair and reasonable path forward is to assign shareholders the responsibility for the cost of Phase 2 relief measures.”
Phase 1 provided relief to low-income residents; however, the cost of the program was borne almost entirely by ratepayers, with Fortis/Central Hudson shareholders contributing only $200,000 while ratepayers will cover the remaining $3 million-plus of Phase 1 relief through a billing surcharge. On August 1st, 2022, Central Hudson added a surcharge of 0.5 percent onto customer bills, which will continue through July of 2023.
“I applaud the Commission for its implementation of Phase 1, which provided much-need relief for low-income residents, and very much support extending this relief to moderate-income households and small business customers in Phase 2;” wrote County Executive Metzger in the letter. “However, it is imperative that this relief be funded fairly and reasonably, and not increase the burden on utility customers already struggling with high energy costs.”
Central Hudson customers who have been impacted by the Company’s billing system errors may submit public comment through the online form at NYSDPS to aid the Public Service Commission’s continued investigation.