Public Service Commission discusses winter electric prices

ALBANY, N.Y.—The Public Service Commission discussed winter electric prices at a conference Thursday.

The conference is being held to examine how the extreme cold this winter impacted the state’s energy pricing and supply.

Utilities and the PSC said the record breaking cold winter was to blame for price hikes in energy bills this winter, but they also named infrastructure complaints during the conference.

PSC Chair Audrey Zibelman said there is a scarcity of pipeline capacity and utilities are having to obtain natural gas from places further away from the Capital Region. Officials said the increase in the price of natural gas also contributed to the problem.

Zibelman suggested more storage capacity to help give customers a less volatile rate. The New York Independent System Operator suggested improving grid operator awareness of both generator fuel status and gas pipeline system conditions.

The NYISO is also considering improvements to allow generators to more accurately reflect fuel supply constraints when bidding the NYISO’s day-ahead energy market.

However, one of the panel members said he believes the price issue is less about the polar vortex and more about the lack of regulation on the wholesale energy markets. He said customers will see a major increase in shut-offs and shut-off notices during the month of May.

Data presented at the conference showed customer complaints to utilities tripled in the last year. Panel member and Secretary of State for Business and Licensing Services Marcos Vigil said warnings from utilities to customers were insufficient.

“So what we’re encouraging is also for the utilities to make use of community action agencies that are in their service territories,” he said.

Panel member Gerald Norlander with the Public Utility Law Project said the debt for customers who can’t pay is astronomical.

“The data from the spikes isn’t in, yet, and we think it will show that customers have fallen behind as much as a billion dollars in what they owe to utilities and that you’re going to see a rise in shut-offs and a rise in shut-off threats.”

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