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The Real Deal: Energy Prices Still Sky-High
ALBANY -- The complaints about utility rates continue to pour into the CBS6 newsroom. National Grid customers are seeing their bills double, even triple compared to what they paid this time last year. On Tuesday, CBS6 Investigative Reporter, Jennifer Lewke sat down with the Chairwoman of the New York State Public Service Commission, the regulatory agency tasked with making sure customers aren't getting ripped-off, for an exclusive interview.
Audrey Zibelman, the Chair of the PSC says her office has been swamped with calls from upset customers over the past few months. The Commission, she says, has looked through National Grid's books and the utility is directly passing along the rates it's paying for the supply of gas and electric without mark-up to customers but she has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to investigate the wholesalers and suppliers who sell to National Grid, NYSEG and other utilities, for possible price-fixing. FERC has agreed to undertake the investigation. "Let's make sure we know who made money and make sure they made it fairly and if not, let's go after them for that," Zibelman tells CBS6.
While Federal Regulators work that case, Zibelman and her team are working with National Grid to see if the utility should make changes as to how it prepares for winter heating season in the future, "we're working with National Grid as well as the other utilities--looking at their practices of how much they buy in advance to protect customers from this type of price volatility," Zibelman says. Because, while the number of subzero days and nights and winter storms was high this winter driving up demand, this is upstate New York and these winters may very well become the new normal, "should it be unusual that we should say, oh this won't happen again, we don't have to worry about it? I'm taking the position that, like we saw with the summer storms, this may not be unusual, this may be what we're looking at in terms of climate change and things like that," she says.
Another issue that led to the increase in pricing this winter was the limited transmission system in New York. When the supply was there, it couldn't get to the areas in need fast enough, the transmission system is particularly congested in the Capital Region. " To say there's basically enough power available but we can't deliver it seems to me, well, that's what's driving prices--that's the type of thing we definitely want to address...We're looking at building additional transmission capability because the last thing you want is to have the availability of resources in Western New York not being able to be used to help moderate prices in the capital region and in New York City, Zibelman says.
National Grid customers are not the only ones impacted by large price spikes, NYSEG customers report their bills have doubled in some cases and customers of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts recently got a notification saying because of extreme weather and pipeline constraints, they'd have to pay more too.