Following a sweeping series of planned and unplanned power outages this summer, Governor Andrew Cuomo vowed to hold Con Ed accountable, going so far as to threaten to yank the private utility's license. But what if, instead, we just give them a bunch more money?
State regulators voted to do just that on Thursday, approving a $1.2 billion rate hike over the next three years for customers in New York City and Westchester.
Expect to pay roughly 4.2 percent more in electric bills this year, 4.7 percent next year, and 4 percent in 2022. For those in Manhattan, the Bronx and parts of Queens, the cost of gas will shoot up 7.5 percent, 8.8 percent, and 7.2 percent over the same time period.
Environmentalists, consumer advocates and some lawmakers have spent months protesting the rate hike, which was passed by the Cuomo-controlled Public Service Commission on Thursday evening.
"Con Ed has not demonstrated that they're using their revenues and profits effectively with public interest in mind," State Senator Julia Salazar, who supports a public takeover of Con Ed, told Gothamist on Friday. "They don't deserve a rate hike just to continue to pay dividends to their shareholders."
New Yorkers currently pay about 35 to 40 percent more for electricity than the rest of the country, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Con Ed reported a $1.38 billion profit in 2018.
The utility says the money will allow it to invest in a $3 billion effort to promote energy efficiency programs.
But activists argue that the hike will only exacerbate the climate crisis, as Con Ed continues to invest in fracked gas pipelines at a time when New York is aiming to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions over the next three decades. "They're investing in stranded assets that will lock us into fossil fuels," said Lee Ziesche, the community engagement coordinator at SANE Energy Project.
Following the vote, protesters staged a sit-in out outside of Governor Andrew Cuomo's office, chanting "a rate hike is a methane spike" and accusing the governor of "supporting climate denialism."
One member of the Public Service Commission, Tracey Edwards, voted against the proposal, saying it did not go far enough to address climate concerns. But the other four members of the Cuomo-appointed board voted to green light the increase, explaining in a press release that the terms were "much more favorable to customers than the company’s original request."
Unlike many states, New York does not mandate that the utility's oversight board include a consumer representative.
The NYC chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America said the price increase should bolster the case for a state take over of Con Ed.
"The failure of the [Public Service Commission] to represent the public interest behind closed doors is just the latest sign that our privately owned energy system is fundamentally undemocratic," said Gustavo Gordillo, an organizer with the group's eco-socialist committee.
"We need a publicly owned utility that respects New Yorkers’ rights to heat and electricity, prioritizes the just transition to renewable energy, and centers the working class communities of color who are most impacted by the abuses of the fossil fuel industry and the growing chaos of the climate crisis.”