This week, the Public Utility Law Project of New York (“PULP”) and a number of community-based organizations, including Eastern Southern Tier Poor People’s Campaign, Fossil Free Tompkins, Get Your Greenback Tompkins, HeatSmart CNY, HeatSmart FLX North, HeatSmart FLX South, HeatSmart Monroe, HeatSmart Tompkins/Chemung, MetroJustice and Network for a Sustainable Tomorrow, held two free virtual information sessions to educate New York State Electric and Gas (“NYSEG”) and Rochester Gas and Electric (“RG&E”) customers about their utility rights and discuss the Companies’ upcoming rate-case, which will be filed in May 2022. These two issues are of particular importance during the statewide “bill surge” affecting consumers, and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, whose impact left nearly 1.3 million New York households, or about one in five New Yorkers, sixty days or more behind on their energy bills; owing more than $1.7 billion in arrears.
The presentation and audience questions focused upon the ongoing NYSEG and RGE “bill surges,” which have doubled or tripled people’s bills and worsened unaffordable energy costs for low- and fixed-income consumers. Discussion on the Companies’ upcoming rate case, which is expected to be filed in late May, was spirited. A video of the training is available here.
Consumers should alert their utility company if they are struggling to make a payment, particularly if their financial distress is caused by COVID-19 and ask the representative to note the account as such. We strongly encourage that consumers also apply for the Home Energy Assistance Program (“HEAP”) and Emergency HEAP, the Regular Arrears Supplement (“RAS”), if it has been renewed, the Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Program (“ERAP”), and the Homeowners Assistance and Utility Fund (“HAF”), all of which are available to help pay arrears and work on getting current with utility bills.
Consumers can also discuss setting up a deferred payment arrangement with the utility company, which will protect the account and consumer’s credit while allowing them to pay the past due amount over time. Finally, a customer can call PULP’s hotline at 877-669-2572 or send an email to [email protected] for further assistance.
“As surprise energy price spikes picked the pockets and broke the budgets of NYSEG and RGE’s customers, it’s incredibly important that consumers understand what rights they have under the law and how to access financial assistance programs if necessary. With another rate case expected to be filed in only a few months, it’s critical that people know they have a voice in the process too,” said Richard Berkley, Executive Director of the Public Utility Law Project of New York.
“The Climate Solutions Accelerator is excited to be partnering with PULP and Metro Justice to help educate our local residents on what they can do when utility bills spike unexpectedly. We want our residents to know your utility rights,” said Matt Corona, Campaign Manager at Climate Solutions Accelerator and Heatsmart Monroe.
“Over the past month, more and more Tompkins County residents have reached out to report increased utility bills. PULP’s presentation provided invaluable information to help local households access financial resources and advocate for themselves in the face of high energy burdens. More than ever, it’s also important that renters and homeowners explore options to reduce their energy use through weatherization and energy efficiency programs,” said Emily Belle, Community Energy Advisor with Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County & Get Your GreenBack Tompkins.
“HeatSmart FLX South is proud to partner with PULP to empower local residents concerning their utility rights. As NYSEG’s rates spike, and another rate case that can only increase this issue is to come, know that you are not powerless, but have support and avenues to take, said Erica Herman, Campaign Director at HeatSmart FLX South.
“PULP is always excited to collaborate with our non-profit partners to support the needs of low-, fixed- and newly-low-income New Yorkers, and thanks to them, these two trainings were a huge success,” concluded PULP Executive Director Richard Berkley.