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Queens leaders fume over possible utility hike

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Western Queens elected officials lambasted Con Edison last week after the utility proposed raising its rates each year for the next three years just two months after the state's Public Service Commission approved the company's latest rate hike.

Con Edison raised its rates 4.7 percent April 1 following the PSC's approving part of the utility's proposed rate increase. The utility had proposed raising bills by as much as 36 percent, making it the largest rate hike in the company's history. But the PSC approved a more modest $425 million increase that would boost bills by 4.7 percent for one year.

Last week, the utility filed a new rate proposal plan with the PSC that would take effect April 1, 2009, and increase rates for the next three years. Western Queens elected officials, who had criticized the utility for its performance during the 10-day borough blackout in July 2006, said they were outraged at Con Ed's request.

"New Yorkers are tired of paying more to an unaccountable monopoly, only to learn that their hard-earned money is wasted on higher executive salaries and investor dividends," state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said. "It is time to dismantle Con Edison once and for all."

The utility has proposed a $654 million rate hike for 2009 that would raise the bills of customers paying an average $78.90 by 7.8 percent, or $6.18, a Con Ed spokesman said. Businesses paying an average $2,338 per month would see a 5.1 percent, or $120, increase, the spokesman said. The utility also proposed raising rates by 4.2 percent in 2010 and 3.7 percent in 2011.

Con Ed also proposed an alternative $557 million rate plan, under which customers' bills would be raised 4.9 percent each year for three years.

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said Con Ed was "like a spoiled child who keeps asking until they get their way and the PSC is the parent who never says no."

In a statement, the utility said the rate increase would help meet the city's growing energy demands. Con Ed said the rate hike is also the result of the cost of electricity being driven up by rising oil and natural gas prices, as well as a rise in the cost of equipment.

A PSC spokeswoman said the agency had received Con Ed's proposal and that an 11-month review process is currently underway. The commission will hold hearings in upcoming months and accept public statements from residents on the proposal, she said. The agency will decide on the proposal next spring, she said.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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