When Silvia Hsu opened her latest Con Edison utility bill, her heart dropped.
She was expecting her electric and gas bill to be around its monthly average of $250, but instead she received a bill for $670.
Hsu isn’t alone, as New Yorkers saw a spike in their energy bills for the month of January with cold weather creating an increased demand for natural gas.
Silvia and Kevin Hsu, tenants of an Astoria apartment building, called the utility company but were told that Con Ed couldn’t do anything about it.
“Purely from a resident perspective, what are we supposed to do?” asked Silvia. “We can’t afford this. Are they going to come in and give us some aid?”
Dimitri Kantzoglou, the building manager for the 36-unit apartment building, also says a tenant received a $14,000 bill from Con Ed before requesting a new and revised bill.
The utility company has yet to issue the tenant a new bill, he says, but a field technician is scheduled to visit the building on February 23. Another tenant in the building, George Tzoganakis, received a $300 bill for his 500-square-foot apartment.
“Personally, I’ve taken my bill off the automatic payment system because I don’t want to pay this bill until somebody comes and there is a final resolution,” said Kantzoglou. “I’m just waiting until the 23rd to see what happens.”
In his own first-floor apartment, Kantzoglou says the energy consumption that was quoted is “completely wrong.” He spent November through the beginning of January at home recovering from a procedure on his knee. He says he sometimes used a plug-in space heater for additional warmth, which never created spikes in his prior bills.
“There’s no way I used more heat in January than in December,” said Kantzoglou, citing a 40 percent increase in energy use than the prior month. “I can understand spikes in prices, but the usage doesn’t make sense.”
In response, city and state officials are urging the utility company to review their billing policies and practices, as well as provided financial aid for New Yorkers.
“The extreme utility bill increases we are seeing across the state come at a time when New Yorkers are already struggling financially following the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Governor Kathy Hochul. “Even though the spike we are seeing in electricity, natural gas and fuel prices were predicted and are due to severe winter weather, I am calling on Con Ed to review their billing practices because we must take unified action to provide relief for New Yorkers, especially our most vulnerable residents.”
A February 11th letter from the Public Service Commission (PSC) to Con Ed requested a detailed review of their billing practices.
“While the PSC and the utilities cannot control supply prices, utilities can improve their procurement and billing practices to reduce the likelihood of dramatic price swings in the future,” said PSC chair Rory M. Christian. “We are requiring Con Edison to address this going forward.”
The utility company will comply with the requests.
“Con Edison is taking action to address the increase in energy supply costs and its impact on our customers,” said a spokesperson. “We are reviewing all of our practices that affect customer supply costs, including our energy-buying practices, the tools we use to reduce supply price volatility, the way we communicate changes in supply prices, and our programs to help customers who have fallen behind on their bills.”
Con Ed also sent out an email to its customers last Friday saying that bills may be higher this month, “even if you didn’t use more energy than usual.”
The company puts most of the blame on varying energy supply costs, which are out of their control.
“Con Edison buys energy on the wholesale market and provides it to customers at the same price we paid without a profit,” the email continued. “We don’t generate electricity.”
Bills received by Con Ed have both a delivery charge and a supply charge. The regulated delivery costs are approved by state agencies and are not subject to market changes.
The unregulated supply costs and fees are not set by Con Ed, and are collected and distributed without making a profit. By law, Con Ed is not allowed to earn a profit from selling electricity.
In January, the utility company filed for an increase for electric and gas rates with the PSC. The request would raise both electric and gas delivery rates at a cost of $1.2 billion and $500 million, respectively.
The new rates could become effective January 1, 2023.
Aid is available for New Yorkers via the Home Energy Assistance Program to avoid any potential service interruptions. Applicants must meet the eligibility requirements, which vary by income and household size.
For tenants like the Hsu’s, a warning of a larger bill would have been appreciated. Upon reading their latest bill, Silvia was hesitant to share the amount with Kevin.
“We are in a very tight spot financially,” she said. “I was born and raised here. I told him my entire life that I’d never move out of here. Now I’m like, why am I living here? You’re literally paying for a zip code.”