NYSEG customers feel that the company hasn’t performed well enough to ask for an increase in rates.
The New York State Public Service Commission held a hearing on Sept. 5 at the Yorktown Town Hall for New York State Gas and Electric customers of Northern Westchester. There, residents were able to voice their concerns about and objections to the proposal to increase rates by 23.7 percent.
“We’re angry because we feel that there’s this great vacuum of no information, no communication, no accountability and nothing coming out of the lines all too frequently,” said County Legislator Mike Kaplowitz.
NYSEG has proposed the almost 24 percent rate increase to cover labor costs and vegetation management, according to the company.
“There’s been a history of poor performance, unreliability, poor communication and you hear it directly from the customers. If there is a rate increase, there’s a lack of credibility that the investments are going to be made where NYSEG says they’re going to be made,” said state Sen. Pete Harckham.
Originally, there was no hearing scheduled in Westchester County, with the closest being held in Binghamton, over 100 miles away from the county and NYSEG’s southernmost customer base. An appeal filed by Yorktown Supervisor Ilan Gilbert, however, brought a hearing to Westchester-Putnam customers.
“We are at the end of NYSEG service territory and the way that we are treated sometimes reflects that fact. That’s readily apparent when the commission first scheduled these public statement hearings, with the closest one over 125 miles north of here,” Gilbert said.
It’s not only customers who seem to have been disregarded by the company. The Brewster division, which serves Westchester and Putnam NYSEG customers, also seems to be neglected, with Assemblyman David Buchwald likening it to the “orphan of the company.”
“The fact that there wasn’t a need to address the implications of this rate hike here in the Brewster division, I think, is potentially emblematic of a broader history of neglect,” Buchwald said.
He pointed out that the proposal does not include an allocation of specific funds to fix the problems within the Brewster headquarters.
“They took everybody out of the Brewster office. We were down to, as far as I saw, one or two trucks. That was it,” North Salem Supervisor Warren Lucas said. “The customer service system that they have when you call is terrible. I have more people calling me at town hall to find out when their power is coming on because they can’t get to NYSEG.”
During powerful rain storms or winter weather, residents experience frequent power outages.
“We’re still dealing with outages. I have had to install an alarm clock which will go off regardless of power cuts because it goes out so often during the night that one plugged in is pretty pointless,” Lewisboro Supervisor Peter Parsons said. “I am expected to be in my office to answer phone calls from people who are complaining about the outage the previous night.”
Flo Brodley, a Heritage Hills resident of 18 years, said that almost all residents of Heritage Hills rely solely on electricity, so the rate increase would be much higher for people living in the Somers community.
“Many of the people in Heritage Hills are over 55. In fact, many of them are over 70, and when there are several days where we have to go to the activities center to sleep or to eat food delivered by the Salvation Army because we are out of power for several days, to me, that’s neglect,” Brodley said.
One resident who operates a business out of their home said they lost thousands of dollars in revenue due to the inconsistent power and has even considered moving out of the area because of the outages.
Many customers also spoke about having to buy generators to maintain power. One Yorktown resident, Joan Brodsky, said that she lived in her home for over 40 years before having to purchase a generator to power her residence.
County Executive George Latimer suggested granting the company a 12-month period in which NYSEG could improve its quality of service before it is granted a rate increase.
“In the private sector, no company could get away with charging more if the quality of their service declined,” Latimer said.
Some also pointed out that this mismanagement should not be rewarded.
“It should not be the residents who bear the burden of financial mismanagement and poor planning on the part of infrastructure degradation,” said Chris Zaberto, a member of the Somers NYSEG task force.
Assemblyman Kevin Byrne asked the commission in a letter to not increase the rates.
“We implore you to do the right thing and not approve the NYSEG increase so the burden of their mistakes is not placed upon the very people that suffer from them,” Byrne said.
“It is absolutely clear that NYSEG should first perform, show positive results and then, perhaps at that point, the commission could consider an increase,” Bedford Supervisor Chris Burdick said.
“What guarantee do customers in Northern Westchester have that this increased revenue will go to improving service in our area?” Gilbert asked.
“What we need from NYSEG is a reliable, resilient electrical grid that does not leave residents in the dark during the worst days of our year.”
County Legislator Kitley Covill (D-Bedford) stressed a need to restore trust between the company and customers.
“I urge you on behalf of all your customers to review current practices and update those practices, particularly in the communication area with estimated times of restoration, which was wildly off, telling people their power was back on when it wasn’t and asking them to use an app that’s outdated and looks like Pac-Man,” Covill said. “I really urge you to consider restoring that public trust and look carefully before you give NYSEG a rate increase.”