Committee on Energy, Environment and Climate meeting

White Plains, NY — With surging energy costs walloping rate payers this winter, legislators met with local utilities to seek answers and find solutions for local residents and businesses.

On Tuesday, the Board of Legislators' Committee on Energy, Environment and Climate grilled representatives of Con Edison and New York State Electric and Gas about their customer service response to spiking natural gas prices that have left many ratepayers gasping at unexpectedly large bills.

Leg. Erika Pierce (D-Bedford, Lewisboro, Mount Kisco, North Salem, Pound Ridge, Somers), Chair of the committee, said, "We all have heard heart-wrenching stories from people in our districts -- seniors on fixed budgets, young families or lower income families for whom every penny counts, and more. Some of the worst impacted were those on auto pay, who have found their bank accounts overdrawn and their food money for the month gone. Westchester residents are no strangers to seasonal increases in electric and gas bills, but the bills this year are unlike anything seen previously.

Pierce continued, "It is incumbent on Con Ed and NYSEG, who have statutory monopolies for the delivery of power, to do more. Whether it's expanding consumer enrollment in level billing programs, putting on additional customer service personnel to help residents who find themselves in extreme duress, proactively reaching out to customers on a case-by-case basis, or doing more to protect against energy price volatility in an era of climate change, we and the residents of Westchester expect something better."

Board Vice Chair Nancy Barr (D-Harrison, Port Chester, Rye Brook), who is also Vice Chair of the committee, said, “When there's something important to communicate such as looming price increases and alternate payment plans, utilities need to do more to get their customers’ attention.  Inserts in a bill, which are used for more mundane communications, or might not at all reach people using paperless billing, will not do the job. This information needs to be blasted out to people if you really want to get their attention, in paid television and radio announcements, for example.”

Joining at the committee table were Legislators MaryJane Shimsky (D-Ardsley, Dobbs Ferry, Edgemont, Hartsdale, Hastings-on-Hudson, Irvington), Catherine Parker (D-Harrison, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, New Rochelle, Rye) and Jewel Williams Johnson (D-Elmsford, Greenburgh, Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown).

The committee spent 90-minutes peppering utility representatives about failures in customer outreach in anticipation of a natural gas price spike and difficulties customers are having reaching customer service representatives. Committee members also suggested a range of follow up items for the utilities to consider including:

  • identifying individuals to act as customer service contacts for our residents in distress
  • revisions to their auto pay process
  • considering delaying roll outs of any rate increases during this period

The committee also pledged to reach out to the New York State Public Service Commission in the coming weeks on these matters.

At the meeting, utility representatives committed to allowing customers to spread out the payments for their unexpectedly large bills up over several months.

On hand from Con Ed was a group led by Jane Solnick, director of regional and community affairs for Westchester. Representing NYSEG was a group led by Dylan Miyoshi, program manager – government and community relations for the company's Brewster division.

You can watch a video of the committee meeting at: