Samantha Maldonado, THE CITY
This article was originally published
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More than 400,000 customers in the New York City area are at least two months behind on their bills. Here’s some quick info that may help if you’re one of them.
for the Roosevelt Island Daily News
My Con Ed bill went through the roof! What’s up with that?
You’re not alone. Lots of Con Ed customers have reported their bills doubling or tripling from one billing period to the next — even if they didn’t use more power.
And it’s a particularly bad time for bills to go up for lots of people. Our reporting shows that, across the state, almost 1.3 million residential gas and electric customers are 60 or more days behind on their bills. All together, they owe over $1.7 billion, according to THE CITY’s analysis of data provided to the state by 10 utility companies.
That includes 411,694 residential Con Ed customers in New York City and Westchester.
Why is this happening?
Your utility bill includes two main charges: the supply charge, for the energy itself, and the delivery charge, which covers the wires, substations and other infrastructure used to transport the energy from the generator to your home.
The supply charge changes all the time, and it’s been high lately. But it’s important to know: Con Ed doesn’t set those rates. Neither does the state, nor any regulatory agency.
So, what’s behind the changing supply prices?
Supply charges change as a function of the global fuel market. Electricity in New York state is largely generated by burning fossil fuels. Those fuels — mostly natural gas — are commodities, and in 2021, they drove energy prices to rise faster than any other commodity category, according to the U.S Energy Information Administration.
Like other commodities, the price fluctuates with supply and demand. In the winter, demand is high. And with gas increasingly exported to foreign countries, the domestic supply gets squeezed. That means fuel costs more.
In New York, electricity cost $0.256 per kilowatt hour in January 2022, a 20% rise from the $0.213 it cost last January, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the same time period, utility gas in New York cost $1.282 per therm last year and $1.497 this year, a 16.7% jump.
OK, but I can’t afford this month’s bill. What can I do?
There are some options for you, but they are limited.
You can contact Con Ed to get on a payment plan, which allows you to pay off the bill over time. Click here for more information, or call (212) 358-4565.
If you receive food stamps, temporary assistance or Social Security benefits, you may already be enrolled in a program that offers a discount on your bills. If you’re getting other government benefits like Medicaid, you also can apply for the discount. Check this page for information about determining your eligibility, or email Con Ed about the program at LowIncomeRate@coned.com.
You can also apply for the state-run Home Energy Assistance Program, or HEAP, which can provide up to $751 this year toward heating assistance for those who receive food stamps, temporary assistance or Social Security.
And through the Utility Assistance Program, people who are elderly, blind, disabled, mentally impaired or in other qualifying situations may be eligible for cash grants.
Organizations like the Center for Urban Community Services and the Public Utility Law Project can help you navigate the processes and find out what you might be eligible for, as can the city Department of Social Services.
I’m already months behind on my bill. When will my electricity get shut off?
Most utility companies have a “handshake agreement” with the state and won’t shut off customers for inability to pay until mid-April according to Richard Berkley, executive director of the Public Utility Law Project. Beyond that, state law requires utility companies to notify you at least 35 days before shutting you off. Typically customers receive notices about 20 days past an overdue bill, and then 15 days before the company plans to shut off service.
If you get a termination notice, contact the company that provides your utility service. Representatives can help you get on plan to pay in installments or defer payment to avoid service disruptions.
There are other assistance programs when it comes to paying down utility debt:
- If you’re eligible for HEAP but behind on bills, you can apply for supplemental HEAP, which will pay up to $10,000 in arrears directly to your utility company.
- And if you’re at risk of having your heat shut off: more than $90 million is available through emergency HEAP for low-income customers to prevent terminations.
- For those not eligible for HEAP, there’s the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which offers limited one-time utility arrears payments for those who also received rental assistance. Be warned, however: the ERAP program has limited funding and thousands of New Yorkers have applied to it, as we’ve previously reported.
Anything else I can do to keep my bills low?
This isn’t a perfect solution, but using less energy means you’ll pay for less energy. Switching to more energy-efficient appliances, using LED bulbs instead of incandescent and washing laundry in cold water all help the cause, among other measures.
I’m still angry.
That’s fair. If you’ve already tried to resolve your bill with your utility company — Con Ed — you can file a complaint with the state Department of Public Service, which oversees utility services. Here is the DPS guide for how to fill out the complaint, and what happens when you do.
What’s the long-term solution here? Can we get more natural gas to fix the supply problem and lower costs?
Not quite. Combusting fossil fuels warms the planet and negatively affects health. The state climate law requires New York to get all of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2040, which means transitioning over to clean sources of energy and moving away from combusting gas. Those clean sources, such as solar and wind, aren’t commodities like gas is and won’t be exposed to the same price volatility in the marketplace. And with the transition comes a push to increase efficiency in sectors like buildings — using less energy means we will pay for less.
THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.
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