Residents across New York City have been blasting Con Edison in recent billing periods, with many claiming their gas and electricity bills increased by at least 25%, and some as high as 80%. There are even threats of a class action lawsuit.
Riverdale resident Richie Sumual, who lives in a studio, was paying around $45 a month for Con Edison bills. In January, his bill more than tripled to $166.
“This is the highest it’s ever been,” said Sumual, who reached out to Con Edison through multiple platforms, but did not hear back. “I am upset and angry because my neighbors in my apartment complex are also experiencing the same thing, but few are like me, with triple increases.”
Miladah Lova was alarmed when she saw her Con Edison bill had tripled. Since she’s gotten her bills, Lova has faced trade-offs. Food or electricity?
“People have to decide to pay Con Ed or their mortgage,” said Lova, who lives in Mount Vernon.
Lova said she’s watching buzz build up about a petition and potential class action lawsuit that some people want to pursue.
Tara Watkins, a Wakefield resident, watched her Con Edison bills for gas and electricity increase by more than $500. Watkins lives in a two-family house and pays two bills each month.
While she understands gas prices are increasing nationwide, she is confused why the maintenance and delivery fees have spiked.
She called Con Edison who “blamed the high bills on the free market and rise in oil and gas prices, yet took no responsibility for the maintenance charges.” After that conversation, Watkins was furious and called her local elected officials.
“I can tell you, I’m only going to give them the bare minimum to turn the lights on,” she said.
Why are Con Edison bills higher this past month?
Con Edison first alerted customers of higher bills in February, though the statement made on Feb. 11 came more than two weeks after invoices were sent out. The company stated that utility bills “may be higher than usual this month, even if you didn’t use more energy than usual. That’s mainly because energy supply costs vary. A spike in these costs plus higher energy use during a frigid January has led to bill increases for most customers.”
There’s a myriad of reasons why the bills have gone up, according to Bruce Alch, the director of consumer services within the state Department of Public Service (DPS). These include an increased demand of natural gas and electricity due to colder-than-normal weather compared to last year, increased economic activity, constrained domestic pipeline capacity, and an increased global demand for natural gas.
“The gas increase is mostly attributed to an increase in natural gas supply prices and anticipated higher usage due to potential colder weather,” said Alch in a letter to people who filed a complaint to the DPS.
But Con Edison is “supposed to forecast and plan when they believe costs will go up,” according to the Public Utility Law Project, a nonprofit that advocates for improved utility service for New Yorkers.
“Though we are being told by ConEd that the steep increase comes from the rise of natural gas prices, their lack of proactive transparency is unacceptable,” said Eric Dinowitz, a city councilmember. “They shouldn’t wait until everyone receives their bill before providing an explanation of why that happened.”
What are elected officials doing about this?
Elected officials such as state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman received dozens of complaints from constituents about Con Edison’s bill hike.
“Con Ed should be ashamed not only for the increased costs, but for the lack of communication and warning given to their customers,” said Biaggi.
In response, Bowman and Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey introduced the Heating and Cooling Relief Act last month to expand federal funding for bill assistance.
Dinowitz said that he had hoped Con Edison would offer more options for customers to pay the higher billing costs, such as a restricted billing program.
Barbara Finkelstein, who lives in central Riverdale, wrote a letter to Dinowitz after her Con Edison bill went up by 30%. She told him she had used less energy in January compared to last January.
“I found the increase bizarre in light of the fact that my building was unusually cold on the below-freezing days,” Finkelstein said.
Finkelstein was left with questions for Con Edison. Why is this company price gouging during a pandemic? Can Con Edison actually unilaterally raise its rates? Can local electeds confront Con Edison about the rate hike?
Dinowitz responded and told her he “will be working with his colleagues to ensure that Con Ed provides better transparency while supplying New Yorkers with the services they deserve.”
Since she assumed office in January, Councilmember Pierina Sanchez has also seen several complaints come in to her office about Con Edison bills.
“Rate hikes like this force our neighbors into choosing between putting food on the table and paying their utility bills, “said Sanchez in a statement to the Bronx Times.
While Con Edison doesn’t control the market price of the energy supply, the state is now requesting that Con Edison review its billing practices, according to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s announcement last month.
Here’s how customers can take action against the bill hikes
Some New Yorkers have decided to file a complaint with DPS, which assists customers with utility and billing issues, looking for explanations or redresses.
Although the moratorium preventing power from being shut off during the pandemic ended this past December, the state now offers assistance programs for customers with lower incomes, and deferred payment agreements to pay overdue bills over a period of time.
There are several options for financial assistance through Con Edison, including monthly payment plans, benefits through the Home Energy Assistance Program, otherwise known as HEAP, or a discount for people with low incomes.
“I hope this scammy behavior from Con Ed can stop,” Sumual said. “This can’t be right.”
Finkelstein believes there should be some recourse for customers.
“For me, the steep rate hike came out of the blue,” Finkelstein said. “Why doesn’t ConEd feel a responsibility to its customers to communicate clearly?”
Reach Sarah Belle Lin at email@example.com. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.