By Miranda Reale
KINGSTON – Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan, New York State Senator Michelle Hinchey and Assemblymember Kevin Cahill announced last week that they sent a joint letter to Central Hudson calling for immediate actions. As of January 2022, 1.3 million residential energy customers across the state were behind on their bills by 60 days or more and since then, the outcry to resolve these issues have only increased. Aid 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 and public testimony on May 3. A public hearing co-hosted by the three elected officials at Kingston High School, brought more than 45 attendants who spoke about estimated bills that did not match historic use.
Small business owners spoke about receiving tens of thousands of dollars in bills when they normally would get one or two thousand dollar bills.
The owner of Ole Savannah restaurant on the Kingston waterfront, Dave Amato, said a week after opening The Rondout Ice Rink at Ole Savannah in November 2021, the utility company sent him a bill for $6,700 without even reading the meter.
“Central Hudson has failed our community members in a way that is truly unfathomable, forcing families to make heartbreaking choices between paying their overinflated, often inaccurate utility bills and putting food on the table, or paying their rent or mortgage. It has to stop, which is why I’ve joined forces with PULP and my colleagues in government to demand that Central Hudson institute a series of restorative measures so that every person impacted by the company’s erroneous billing system gets the resolution they deserve,” Senator Michelle Hinchey said.
PULP, is a state-wide non profit public interest law firm with a mission to educate, advocate, and litigate on the behalf of low and fixed income utility consumers, and elected officials in attendance last Friday are working with the organization to lay out which actions consumers can take to approach price surges and bring awareness to consumer protection.
In a virtual presentation held in March by PULP, State Senator James Skoufis announced that the Committee on Investigations and Government Operations would look into the recent spikes in utility bills. The committee opened up a formal legislative investigation into utilities, power suppliers, and state regulators, but more pressure has been added as Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan triggered the current Departments of Public Service (DPS) investigation. In the May 3 letter, Ryan cited the “precarious and stressful situations they have plunged their customers into.” Fortis/Central Hudson now in the midst of three major investigations, the DPS will come up with corrective recommendations for the Public Service Commission to vote on at a future meeting.