New Paltz residents are waiting to receive backlogged bills from Central Hudson Gas and Electric due to the folding of the company Columbia Utilities. While some residents have been waiting to receive a bill since June or July, others that have recently received their bill are astounded by the price they must pay.
“I got a bill yesterday. The first one since July 11,” one Facebook user wrote in New Paltz Community group on Oct. 29. “It was for only $436. Thought it would be way more since I’ve been seeing people who are getting bills for thousands.”
In 2019, New Paltz, along with nine other nearby municipalities, agreed to move its residents into 100% renewable energy as part of Community Choice Aggregation (CCA). CCA is New York State legislation from 2016 that allows for local governments to buy renewable energy in bulk for a discounted price. Only 10 other states offer CCA currently.
After the municipalities agreed to source the renewable energy, a new group partnership program with Joule Community Power, an enterprise that designs and implements CCA programs, created the Hudson Valley Community Power program. This program kicked off with a power source of 100% hydropower and was locally managed by Hudson Valley Energy.
Columbia Utilities Power was selected to supply renewable energy to all municipalities participating in CCA for a contract from 2021-2024. Residents had the choice to opt out of the CCA program and get their energy from Central Hudson’s sources, rather than Columbia Utilities Power’s renewable energy. Those who did not choose to opt out had Columbia Utilities as their energy provider.
However, on July 12, 2022, about 23,000 customers using Columbia Utilities were sent back to have Central Hudson as their default energy provider. Columbia Utilities was declared in default after failing to comply with New York State credibility standards. New York Independent System Operator’s (NYISO) Chief Financial Officer Cheryl Hussey wrote, “The NYISO has contacted the providers of last resort in the areas served by Columbia Utilities and those providers will provide distribution services to Columbia Utilities’ former customers,” in reference to Central Hudson.
There was no interruption in electricity service with the shift, but Hudson Valley Community Power warned there may be a “short delay in receiving your July electric bill until the transfer is fully processed,” in a letter sent in July 2022.
Central Hudson became the sole energy provider on July 19, and customers are receiving, or have yet to receive, backlogged bills.
“We apologize to customers who have not been billed timely in recent months or have encountered other billing issues,” wrote Central Hudson in a note to customers impacted by billing issues. “Substantial improvements have been made since this transition was initiated and we are working to resolve all remaining issues and restore our standard of excellent customer service to you.”
On Oct. 19, Central Hudson stated that customers previously enrolled with Columbia Utilities are beginning to receive their bills. “Bills are being issued to this group of customers over the next several weeks of October and into November. If you do not see a bill immediately but your neighbor does, please continue to be patient,” the company wrote. “All former Columbia customers have been re-integrated and will receive a bill soon.”
Once a Columbia customer is officially reintegrated into Central Hudson, they bill the customer for energy used since the transfer was initiated. This is because they know the amount of energy used based on electricity meters. Customers are receiving the cost of months of energy use at once, explaining the exorbitant rates.
These high costs can be a burden to people that find it unreasonable to pay so much money at once. “I got an email from them this week that I owe them over $800, effing ridiculous! There’s no way in hell I can pay all of that right now so I’m going to sign up for a payment plan,” another Facebook user wrote on Oct. 29. “I don’t think they have a choice because it’s not their fault for not billing us. You can’t make a payment if you don’t know how much to pay!!!”
Prior to Columbia Utilities’ default, municipalities like New Paltz participating in the program were notified that Columbia Utilities was trying to get out of their contract before it expired in 2024. The company’s past had made some Saugerties village officials skeptical of participating in the CCA. The company was fined for illegal marketing efforts in March 2022, after partaking in misleading practices to get customers to sign up and charging higher than promised fees.
Customers worried about the cost of their electricity bill that have yet to receive one can send in a picture of their electricity meter on the Central Hudson app as an alternative to continuing to wait. This will show them how much electricity they used, and Central Hudson can inform them how much they owe.