Central Hudson’s new billing system and skyrocketing energy costs have left customers with higher-than-normal power bills this winter.
Government officials representing Ulster and Orange counties have called for investigations into Central Hudson’s billing practices after a new system has resulted in higher-than-normal bills or no bills at all for roughly 11,000 utility customers.
The billing snafu comes at a time of historically high energy costs and inflation in the U.S. and abroad, exacerbated by a surge in oil and gas prices amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Central Hudson, which provides electricity and natural gas to hundreds of thousands of customers in Ulster, Orange, Greene, Dutchess, Putnam and Albany counties, announced on Feb. 14 that electricity bills would rise 46 percent and natural gas bills would increase by 19 percent. The utility on March 1 said that energy costs would remain elevated in March in light of events in Eastern Europe.
The utility has blamed price hikes on higher demand for power in cold weather and in the pandemic, increased demand for natural gas in Europe, and constrained pipeline capacity. The utility also cited a greater reliance on natural gas following the closure of the Indian Point nuclear power plant.
In a letter dated March 3, Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan called upon the Public Service Commission, an oversight group, to launch an official probe, while state Sen. James Skoufis, a Hudson Valley Democrat who chairs the senate’s investigations committee, on March 4 opened a formal investigation into not only Central Hudson, but also Orange and Rockland Utilities, ConEd and other power suppliers. The Public Service Commission has already launched an investigation into how Central Hudson responded to the early February ice storm that left thousands without power for days in Ulster County.
Central Hudson has blamed its new billing software, which went into effect in August 2021, for unpredictable over- and under-billing, or a lack of bills altogether for thousands of customers. In some cases, the new system has led to higher than normal automatic withdrawals from customer’s accounts without warning.
“The failed implementation of Central Hudson’s 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,” said Ryan in a news release.
“This is not entirely unique to Central Hudson’s service area,” said Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, who still took issue with their new billing system and supports an investigation into the utility. “We need to be honest about that. Whether you live in ConEd, NYSEG, or Central Hudson regions, you are experiencing astronomical increases in electric costs.”
On March 3, State Assembly member Jonathan Jacobson also held a virtual forum for constituents to ask Central Hudson representatives questions about their utility bills. “In the past few weeks, my office has been hearing nonstop from constituents unhappy about their utility bills,” Jacobson said in a news release. “I have been working with constituents to try to resolve their individual problems about their recent bills, but the problems go beyond individual billing glitches.”
“Central Hudson will fully cooperate with investigations into the supply chain issues that have led to an increase in energy prices,” said utility spokesperson Joe Jenkins. “Higher energy prices do not benefit Central Hudson … Central Hudson and other utilities do not mark up or profit on these costs. Our customers pay the same energy costs as Central Hudson does.”
Jenkins also said Central Hudson will continue to cooperate with any investigation that includes the new billing system within its scope. He said they are making progress in addressing problems with the new billing system and the utility hopes to have issues fully resolved by spring.
To assist customers affected by higher usage and energy prices, the utility is offering no-cost and interest-free extended payment options to pay off balances over time.
“I think of the people who are more vulnerable than I am,” said New Windsor resident Vivian Milczarski, who saw a bill as high as $2,500 in the fall, compared to her usual $200 to $300 combined gas and electric bill. “You feel frustrated and that no one is listening to you, and it can take a lot of time and research to see what’s happening. The average person doesn’t have time to file a complaint or wait to talk to someone.”
Skoufis, along with other mid-Hudson senators Pete Harckham, Michelle Hinchey and Elijah Reichlin-Melnick, are hosting a virtual utility rights forum with the Public Utility Law Project on Thursday, March 10.
The Public Utility Law Project, a state consumer advocacy group, has estimated that more than 12 percent of all Central Hudson customers are behind on their bills by 60 days or more. The forum will inform local residents on their rights as utility consumers and what financial help is currently available, including utility arrears.
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Cloey Callahan is a lifelong Hudson Valley resident who was born and raised in Brewster and covered news for the Hudson Valley team.