Thursday, August 07, 2008

A Well Kept Secret: Con Edison's Low Income Rate

In general, the New York PSC has done little in the way of encouraging utilities to establish rate plans that lighten burdens on the poor. The PSC has approved rate plans for most of the major utilities that purport to include a low-income rate plan, but these are mainly cosmetic, in that they do not really reach the eligible customer population or really provide sufficient benefits to make energy burdens affordable.

In a Con Edison electric rate case in 2000, PULP submitted testimony in support of a reduced rate for low income customers who were eligible for a broad range of benefit programs for the needy. This had been vigorously opposed by Con Edison for many years. In the prior case, Con Edison agreed to a reduced customer charge for customers receiving public assistance whose bills were directly paid by the local social services agency. In the eventual settlement of the case, Con Edison agreed to implement its first broadly available low income rate, which is provided as a discount to the regular $12.42 per month rate for the customer charge, and this was approved in New York PSC Opinion 00-14.

California utilities provide a rate reduction of 20% for low income customers in the California CARE program, and prominently advertise its availability. In contrast, the Con Edison low income rate is a rather well kept secret.

Try to find information about the rate on the Con Edison website, or at its "Customer Central" information page.

Good luck!

If you mine hundreds of pages of the Con Edison tariffs you can find that the customer charge rate reduction is $5.92 per month for Customers who are "enrolled" in the Company's low-income program. Even this small rate reduction can be important for customers on low and fixed incomes who live from check to check and are faced with higher Con Edison bills.

To qualify for the low-income rate
[A] Customer must be enrolled in the Direct Vendor or Utility Guarantee Program and/or receiving benefits under Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance to Needy Persons/Families, Safety Net Assistance, or Food Stamps, or have received a Home Energy Assistance Program grant in the preceding 12 months.
There is no readily available application form for the Con Edison "low-income program." Callers to the PULP Hotline have told us that Con Edison's call center 1-800-75-CONED (1-800-752-6633) does not provide information to customers when they call and inquire about reduced rates for low-income customers.

In contrast to Con Edison's downplaying of its very modest rate break for low-income customers, Keyspan prominently provides information about its Reduced Residential Rate and other assistance for low-income customers at its website, and provides an online application form for service in the reduced rate classification, which is established in the tariffs as a separate residential subclass.

Utilities in other states provide more appropriate rate reductions to reduce energy burdens and publicize them well.

For example, see Southern California Edison's webpage regarding its CARE rate for low income customers, which provides a 20% rate reduction. Applications can be downloaded from the utility's web page.

Many customers who do receive the Con Edison low-income rate reduction are enrolled through a data matching program between Con Edison and public assistance agencies in New York City and Westchester County. For customers eligible for the reduced rate who are missed in this "automatic" enrollment process, PULP has created an application form which is available online at PULP's website page on the Con Edison low income rate. For further information contact the PULP Hotline at 1-800-255-PULP (1-800-255-7857).

1 comment:

Nickname unavailable said...

I have just received my bill for Dec 2008. On the pamphlet "Your Rights and Responsibilities as a Customer Billed Under Residential ..." There is a small paragraph describes the discount and not-so-clear application section. Nonetheless, it is not obvious compare to, for example, the HEAP program.