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Con Ed predicts 22% rate hikes

Con Edison customers' bills could be soaring like the temperatures this summer as prices for natural gas and oil surge.

In June, Con Ed predicted that customer bills would rise by an estimated 13 percent this summer in response to increases in crude oil prices. But the utility is now forecasting a 22 percent increase in residential customer bills and a 25 percent increase in commercial customer bills.

"This may change due to how high the cost of oil and natural gas goes," Con Ed spokesman Bob McGee said. "It doesn't only affect what people pay at the pump, but also what it costs to generate electricity that is supplied to our customers."

On Tuesday crude oil prices closed at $138.69 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Each barrel contains 42 gallons.

McGee said the utility's customers could open their bills this summer to find that the energy supply portion is higher. But the electric delivery rate for transmission and distribution, which was set by the state's Public Service Commission earlier this year, will remain the same through March 2009, he said.

But western Queens elected officials, who criticized the utility for its response to the 10-day borough blackout in July 2006 during which 174,000 residents lost power, said a rate hike approved by the state earlier this year only covered a portion of customers' bills.

"This is the shell game that Con Edison plays as it lies to New Yorkers," state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said. "After bracing ourselves for the 6 percent rate hike approved just two months ago, we now discover another double digit increase on our bills on top of that."

In May, the utility proposed raising its rates each year for the next three years, beginning with a $654 million rate hike in 2009 that would boost the bills of customers paying an average $78.90 per month by $6.18 and increase the bills of business owners paying an average $2,338 per month by $120. The utility also proposed raising rates by 4.2 percent in 2010 and 3.7 percent in 2011.

A PSC spokeswoman said that the agency would decide on Con Ed's proposal following an 11-month review process that would include public hearings.

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

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