Senator Schumer calls for investigation into skyrocketing electric rates


By Jay Braman Jr.
As many in the region remain in a state of shock over ever-rising electric bills, United States Senator Chuck Schumer has called for an investigation into those increases.
Meanwhile a local state senator is blaming the hikes on a lack of natural gas.
In a prepared statement issued last week, Schumer, a Democrat, called the rate increases “mind boggling” and urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to immediately investigate why residents across Upstate New York have been forced to pay so much over the course of this winter and are expected to continue to pay for several more months.
“These bills have gone up so much that we need to take a good, hard look at what is really going on here; and that is why I am calling on the Federal Trade Commission – the authority when it comes to consumer protection and anticompetitive business practices - to launch an investigation into these exorbitant price hikes,” Schumer said. “We need to make sure that customers are not being overcharged, and we need to make sure this same situation does not happen again in the high-usage months of summer.”
Schumer, who said that NYSEG customers saw about a 15 percent increase this winter, noted that many individual ratepayers have faced even higher rate increases.
Prior to Schumer’s announcement, The New York Public Service Commission (PSC) and the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) both requested that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission review and investigate whether markets were operating in a competitive manner during these brutally cold winter months. Further, PSC specifically asked whether gas pipeline capacity had been fully utilized during that time.
“I urge the FTC to join and support the FERC’s Office of Enforcement’s investigation and examine whether any uncompetitive practices occurred, both in wholesale and retail electricity markets,” Schumer said. “Though there is no question this winter has put a significant strain on the power system, the FTC must ensure that these exorbitant increases in the price of natural gas and electricity, especially when it comes to ratepayers bills, are consistent with competitive practices and not driven by any wrongful conduct.”
Nick Alba, a Phoenicia resident and chairman of the Shandaken Democratic Party, posted on the group’s Facebook page that he contacted the region’s State Senator, Republican James Seward, about the problem and was informed that the rate spike was due to increased cold weather usage and the lack of sufficient natural gas pipelines.
Alba fears such reasoning might have an ulterior motive. “The people are getting screwed, and the only thing our state senator is about to do is use it for an excuse to give us fracking and pipelines,” he wrote. “I hope that Schumer’s investigation will help the people of New York.”