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Astoria customers bash Con Ed rate hike plan

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Last spring the utility proposed raising customers' bills by as much as 36 percent, making it the largest rate hike request in the company's history. Under the request, residents paying $70 per month would probably see a 17 percent, or $12, increase in their bills, while businesses paying $2,200 a month would face a 10.7 percent, or $235, increase, the utility said.The PSC has since suggested cutting the proposed rate hike in half to $618 million.But western Queens elected officials, who previously blasted Con Ed for its performance during the 10-day borough blackout in July 2006, said the PSC should not grant the utility's request until there is more oversight of the company."This is a company that has allowed our city to become an obstacle course of stray voltage, exploding manholes, steam pipe explosions and service interruptions," Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) told law judges for the PSC during last week's hearings at the Queens Library's Long Island City branch on 21st Street. "Con Ed is the tyrant that is asking for us to pay more tribute, but tonight we are the peasants with pitchforks saying 'No.'"The utility has also requested a 3.2 percent increase in 2009 and a 3.7 percent rise in 2010.In a statement, Con Ed said it would need to spend $7.5 billion during the next five years on its electric delivery system to maintain reliability."Electric usage reached an all-time high in New York City and Westchester last year, spurred largely by our region's growing economy," the utility said. Residents at the hearings also said they thought the hike would put a strain on western Queens businesses, many of which have not fully recovered from the 2006 blackout, and seniors who live on fixed incomes."This company continues it's 'greed is good' campaign," Astoria resident Robert Moratti said. "Seniors can't afford this increase. Con Ed's 'poor me' attitude before the PSC will turn to a 'mightier than thou' attitude at next month's shareholders meeting."Charles Jenkins, of the Transit Workers Union Local 100, said the hike would also hurt the people his union represents in Sunnyside and Woodside who only get small raises each year."Businesses in western Queens are still suffering [from the blackout] and Con Ed wants to pose an outrageous 17 percent rate hike when a majority of workers in this state can barely get a 3 percent pay increase?" he said. "That's unfair. We are looking for justice."PSC rules stipulate that a decision would have to be made on Con Ed's proposal within 11 months after the rate hike request was filed, a PSC spokesman said. The agency will vote on the proposal this spring, he said.The utility has said that the hike would go toward paying for infrastructure upgrades and meeting the city's growing electrical needs.City residents can submit testimony on the rate hike to the PSC's Albany office by Feb. 8 or call the agency's hotline at 1-800-335-2120.Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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