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Astoria leaders fight Con Ed’s plan to hike rates

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Western Queens elected officials blasted a request by Con Edison last week to raise the gas and steam rates of borough residents and businesses in a move that would go into effect next fall.

The utility has submitted two plans to the state Public Service Commission for its gas rates, including a one-year plan that would increase residential gas bills by 9.1 percent and business’ bills by 6.7 percent for one year or a three-year proposal that would raise customers’ bills by 6.6 percent and business’s bills by 4.4 percent each year.

In addition, Con Ed has proposed two options to raise its steam rates — a four-year plan with an annual 9.4 percent increase in bills or a one-year plan to increase rates by 18.2 percent.

The utility wants the plan to be implemented by next October. Con Ed’s proposal must be filed and approved by the New York State Public Service Commission.

But elected officials representing western Queens, who have long been critics of Con Ed following the utility’s response to a 2006 blackout that left 176,000 borough residents without power for 10 days, said they believed the company’s rate hike request should not be approved.

“Con Ed has yet to take any of the reforms necessary to improve its performance and safety record,” state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said. “Until they do, these rate hikes should be denied. They are taking money out of our pockets during a difficult time.”

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) called the utility a “greedy monopoly.”

“Another year, another demand from Con Edison for a rate increase,” he said. “While citizens and public agencies are scaling back and seeking ways to be more efficient, Con Edison enjoys profit increases and the highest rates in the country.”

“We recognize that these are difficult times for our customers and we will continue to work to hold down delivery costs as much as possible without compromising reliability,” the utility said in a statement.

In May, Con Ed proposed plans to raise rates in 2010 that would increase customer bills by as much as 7.8 percent and business’ rates by as much as 4.8 percent.

The U.S. Labor Department released a study in July which found that city residents pay 59 percent more for electricity than the rest of the country and 34 percent more for natural gas. The following month, the PSC released an independently conducted audit of the utility which determined it had not effectively explained how investments would improve its aging infrastructure and found the company to be an “organization that has trouble seeing itself as others see it.”

Last week, the PSC approved $48.3 million that will go toward providing financial assistance for businesses to improve their energy efficiency through upgrades. For electric customers Con Ed’s efficiency program will receive $10.7 million, saving nearly 16,000 megawatts per hour in the five boroughs. The utility will also get $3 million to make natural gas customers more efficient, saving more than 64,000 dekatherms.

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

Posted 6:29 pm, October 10, 2011
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