On April 1, Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan announced that the New York State Department of Public Service’s (DPS) investigation into reports of billing errors on behalf of Central Hudson utilities, has received over 1,000 complaints in 48 hours. Complaints flooded in after County Executive Ryan encouraged residents to post their public comments on the DPS webportal.
These actions were the result of County Executive Ryan’s formal request for investigation into Central Hudson Gas and Electric’s billing practices and “bill surges.” The request was addressed to Rory M. Christian, Chair of New York State Public Service Commission.
“Over the course of the past six months, both our office and the office of our Ulster County Human Rights Commissioner have fielded an unprecedented volume of serious complaints from constituents expressing concerns about unreliable billing practices and mounting, untenable costs for their utilities,” he said in the request. “We have also heard from both Senator Michelle Hinchey and Assemblymember Kevin Cahill, each of whom have also been inundated by residents struggling to decipher the information being provided, or in many cases not being provided, by the company. Residents have detailed a multitude of negative experiences including not being billed for multiple months, erroneous and/or extremely over-estimated bills, automatic withdrawals of large sums without notice, unsubstantiated charges, and more.”
Prior to the formal investigation, many people shared their situations and voiced their frustration through Facebook communities.
Countless numbers of posts and comments have been made on the New Paltz Community Facebook page regarding the skyrocketing cost of utilities.
Central Hudson cited global energy costs and the poor implementation of their new billing and customer service system as the reasons prices are so high.
The advisory page of their website has a column listing the frequently asked pricing questions of 2022. One of the questions listed in the column asked about the percentage of increase customers should expect to see in their monthly bill.
“February supply prices for natural gas rose 33% as compared to January, while electric supply prices more than doubled,” the website offered in response. “Then in March, natural gas supply prices are rose again by about 24%, but electricity prices fell by 46%. Although electricity prices are declined, they are still higher than last year’s prices. Looking ahead toward April, analysts indicate that energy prices will likely remain similar to what they are today, and large changes up or down are not expected.”
Another question Central Hudson answered was about what happens to customers who can’t pay their bills.
Central Hudson pointed concerned individuals to its Budget Billing Program — or a program that combines all of a household’s electricity bills from one year and divides it into equal payments over 11 months, with the 12th month being adjusted higher or lower to fit the home’s actual use and market cost of goods. This is to help households who may have a harder time paying for utilities during the winter months.
However, in his formal request for investigation, County Executive Ryan noted how he felt these explanations did not provide substantial reason for the spike in costs.
“The failed implementation of their new billing system compounded by unexpected and unprecedented bill surges has resulted in extensive damage to the confidence of our community as consumers, all of whom are without any other choice of provider for their utility needs,” he wrote.
County Executive Ryan went on to state exactly what he would like to be done as part of the investigation into Central Hudson, including issues related to the replacement of their IT systems, an examination of their billing systems and their overall efforts in communicating with their customers about these bill surges. He also highlights how customers “were subsequently hit with bills up to 46% higher than normal immediately following being without service and many being forced to expend their funds on emergency housing during the storm.”
There is no deadline for submissions to the DPS webportal as it is expected for the investigation to continue for several months. “As Ulster County Executive, I will continue to use my office to advocate on behalf of all of our residents. The failed implementation of Central Hudson’s new billing system along with the unexpected and unprecedented bill surges is simply unacceptable,” County Executive Ryan said in a press release on the Ulster County website. “I want to thank all of the impacted individuals who have already participated in the investigation along with DPS for their immediate attention to this matter. While this investigation has already seen over 1,000 comments, I am continuing to encourage residents to submit their concerns in order to show the full scope of the situation.”