More Con Edison customers have a hard time paying up


More and more Con Edison customers are having a hard time paying their bills, say critics of the company’s proposed deal with state regulators to freeze its gas and electric delivery rates.

As of the end of September, 271,975 Con Edison residential customers – 9.4 percent – were more than 60 days behind on their bills, says the Public Utility Law Project. That was an increase of 12 percent over September 2012.

Customers more than 60 days behind owed $250.1 million to Con Ed in September, the data shows. A year earlier, customers more than 60 days behind owed the company $229.9 million.

Delinquencies fluctuate, PULP’s data shows. But the numbers show a clear upward trend since 2005 – evidence, PULP says, that Con Edison’s prices are higher than New Yorkers can bear. PULP’s experts blame the economic circumstances of Con Ed’s customers, which they believe have worsened over the last decade.

Critics say the plan to freeze electric delivery rates for two years and gas delivery rates for three years doesn’t do enough to help consumers. They had hoped the state would push Con Edison to lower its prices – which, federal data shows, have included the highest electricity rates charged by any major US utility.

Nancy Brockway, a former utility commissioner in New Hampshire who is testifying for PULP as an expert in the Con Edison case, put the issue this way:

“Con Edison customers have been overpaying for a number of years now … The shareholders have held on to these excess profits, while deferring expenditures on necessary items such as pension and related employee benefits, expenditures they expect customers to pay for. Meanwhile, New York and Westchester are emerging from the ‘Great Recession,’ but job growth remains insufficient to being unemployment back to reasonable levels. This is particularly the case when one considers that many middle class New Yorkers have been unable to find work with sufficient pay and benefits to preserve their housing, send their kids to college, and otherwise maintain the middle-class life they worked hard and long to develop. It must also be acknowledged that the Great Recession has caused a particularly high number of people to be unemployed for long periods.”

Con Edison offered this comment this afternoon:

“We recognize economic conditions strain many of our customers and we thoroughly work with them on developing payment agreements, extensions and level payment plans.   We strongly encourage our customers to reach out to us in times of economic hardships, so together we can find a solution that best fits their particular situation.”

You’ll find PULP’s latest filings in the rate case here, here and here.

The Public Utilities Commission will start hearings on the proposal in Manhattan on Jan. 14. You’ll find some of my earlier coverage of the case here and here.

About Bill Sanderson

I'm a New York-based journalist, and a former reporter at the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire, the Bergen Record in New Jersey, and the New York Post. My work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, and Politico New York. Twitter: @wpsanderson.
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