The Ulster County Executive, State Senator and Assemblymember call upon the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the Department of Public Service (DPS) to take actions to protect consumers during their investigation of Central Hudson
The Ulster County Executive, State Senator and Assemblymember provide the Public Service Commission investigation 45 comments from the May 3rd public hearing on Central Hudson’s billing practices
KINGSTON, N.Y. - Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan, New York State Senator Michelle Hinchey and Assemblymember Kevin Cahill announced today that they sent a joint letter to Rory Christian, Chair of the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC), calling for immediate actions to protect consumers while the New York State Department of Public Service (DPS) investigates Fortis/Central Hudson. Among their requests, that the PSC suspend the rate increase set to go into effect in July and restrict any rate increases until the closure of the investigation; that the DPS and PSC use its fullest authority to seek and apply penalties against the Company and order Fortis/Central Hudson to directly compensate residential and small businesses throughout the service territory; and that the DPS and PSC require transparency. The remedies proposed by County Executive Ryan, Senator Hinchey and Assemblymember Cahill were coordinated with the Public Utility Law Project (PULP) and based on conversations with constituents.
Additionally, Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan, New York State Senator Michelle Hinchey and Assemblymember Kevin Cahill announced that they delivered 45 public comments from a May 3rd, 2022, public hearing at Kingston High School to Michelle Phillips, Secretary of the PSC, to supplement the record for the DPS investigation into Central Hudson’s customer information system implementation and the resulting billing errors. To date, nearly 4,000 complaints have been filed with DPS.
“The public comments submitted during the public hearing paint a picture of the urgent issue that Central Hudson’s new billing system has been for countless residents across Ulster County; my colleagues and I are bringing these powerful voices to the State Public Service Commission, to the Governor of New York and, ultimately, to Central Hudson for action,” Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan said. “I want to thank DPS for their immediate attention to this matter, and reassure Ulster County residents that their issues with this utility company are being taken very seriously by my office. Thank you to the Senator and Assemblymember for their partnership in calling for remediation for our shared constituencies.”
“Our public hearing was a powerful representation of the dire situations families across the Hudson Valley have been facing due to Central Hudson’s erroneous billing system, and we are fighting to bring the hammer down–not only to hold Central Hudson accountable but to make sure they rectify every financial injustice they’ve caused,” Senator Michelle Hinchey said. “The testimonies we’ve collected aren’t just stories; these are real people whose lives have been upended by Central Hudson’s failures. My team and I are working every day to right these wrongs and get people the resolutions they need, and I thank my colleagues for their partnership in this fight.”
“The personal stories given by our neighbors at the May 3 hearing and over 700 issues shared with my office have highlighted the negligence that Fortis/Central Hudson has demonstrated in their failure to adequately and responsibly provide service. In addition to rectifying the issues with their billing system and storm response, we are calling on the Public Service Commission to adopt our proposed remedies to begin rebuilding our community’s faith in our utility supplier,” said Assemblymember Kevin A. Cahill (D-Ulster, Dutchess).
“The 45 stories we heard at the public hearing and thousands of additional comments submitted to the record of the DPS investigation have made one thing clear: Fortis/Central Hudson’s grossly negligent replacement of its I.T. systems egregiously harmed its customers,” said Richard Berkley, Executive Director of the Public Utility Law Project of New York. “It is unfair, inequitable and contrary to the public interest for the Company’s customers to be the only ones affected by these unjust and unreasonable rates the Company’s errors are inflicting upon customers, which is why we join the County Executive, Senator and Assemblymember in calling on the Public Service Commission to rapidly take further action to protect consumers.”
The three elected officials are calling for the following remedies from Central Hudson:
- That the DPS expedite the investigation process with the goal of publishing its findings by October 1, 2022, before the next heating season begins;
- Bi-monthly updates to the elected officials’ offices from the DPS on the status of the investigation;
- That the DPS and PSC fortify the protective measures that the elected officials urged Fortis/Central Hudson to take to help its customers;
- That, due to the scope and magnitude of the consumer impact, the PSC appoint an independent monitor to oversee the daily operations of Fortis/Central Hudson until such time that a full resolution of the problems giving rise to the three current investigations has been reached;
- That the PSC suspend the rate increase set to go into effect in July and restrict any rate increases until the closure of the investigation;
- That the DPS and PSC use its fullest authority to seek and apply penalties against the Company and order Fortis/Central Hudson to directly compensate residential and small businesses throughout the service territory;
- That public hearings be held in each population center within the service area prior to the DPS reports being issued and also after the issuance of such reports and outlining of penalties upon the Company; and
- Greater transparency of the market prices and formulas that Fortis/Central Hudson uses to determine consumer rates, as well as the Company’s hedging activities or lack thereof despite the October 2021 federal commodity price increase forecast.
The DPS is currently investigating Fortis/Central Hudson’s customer information system implementation, which has resulted in numerous, serious billing errors. The investigation was triggered by Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan, who used his legal authority as the chief executive officer under Public Service Law §71. His March 3rd letter cited Ulster County residents’ concerns ranging from not receiving bills for months, to extremely over-estimated bills, to large automatic withdrawals from customers’ accounts without notice. Nearly 4,000 comments have been submitted on this DPS Matter #22-00666 detailing a multitude of issues initially raised in the officials’ respective calls for investigation. Following the audit, the DPS will come up with corrective recommendations and remedies for the PSC to vote on at a future meeting.
At the State level, Senator Hinchey has called on the Public Service Commission to investigate both Fortis/Central Hudson’s estimated billing procedure and the utility’s skyrocketing bill hikes and authored legislation (S7579A) to prohibit every utility company in New York from using an estimated billing system in most circumstances, which is currently under review in the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee.
Last week, the County Executive, Senator and Assemblymember sent a joint letter to Fortis/Central Hudson calling for immediate action on behalf of their constituents who have been egregiously impacted by the company’s billing practices. The remedies proposed were:
- Reconnect any customer whose service was terminated from August 2021 to the present and halt all new termination efforts through May 1st, 2023;
- Reverse any and all late fees, interest accruals and negative credit reports from August 2021 to the present;
- Offer a minimum Deferred Payment Agreement (DPA) at $0 down and $10/month to any residential or small business customers in arrears whose bills can be determined to be legitimate and subsequently verified and approved by the Department;
- Retroactively apply charges based on the specific month in question when issuing corrected invoices for previous billing periods and provide credits in situations where such practice has not been carried out;
- Zero out balances for any customers in arrears who do not receive corrected, accurate and verified bills by June 30, 2022; and
- Increase transparency and better communicate the market prices, calculations and hedging activities that determine the rates consumers pay.