By Nathan Duke
Last spring the utility proposed raising customers' bills by as much as 36 percent, making it the largest rate hike request in the company's history. Under the request, residents paying $70 per month would probably see a 17 percent, or $12, increase in their bills, while businesses paying $2,200 a month would face a 10.7 percent, or $235, increase, the utility said. The PSC has since suggested cutting the proposed rate hike in half to $618 million. The utility has also requested a 3.2 percent increase in 2009 and a 3.7 percent rise in 2010.The agency will host two public hearings per day this month at six different locations throughout the city. The only hearings in the borough will be held at 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 17 at the Long Island City Community Library, located at 37-44 21st St. in Long Island City.Other hearings will be held at the City University of New York's Graduate Center in Manhattan on Jan. 8, Brooklyn Borough Hall's courtroom on Jan. 9, The Westchester County Center in White Plains on Jan. 16, the Bronx Borough President's Hearing Room on Jan. 22 and the Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences on Jan. 23.”We are moving into an important phase,” a PSC spokesman said. “We want to hear from the public about this proposal.”PSC rules stipulate that a decision would have to be made on the proposal within 11 months after the rate hike request was filed, the spokesman said. The agency will vote on the proposal this spring, he said. Con Ed has said that the hike would go toward paying for infrastructure upgrades and meeting the city's growing energy needs.”There is an explosion of building permits in Queens,” a Con Ed spokesman said. “We are charged with meeting that growth. New Yorkers are using 20 percent more electricity today than they used 10 years ago. We want to deliver it safely and reliably, so that's why we want to make investments for the future.”But western Queens elected officials, who criticized the utility for its performance during the 10-day borough blackout in July 2006, said they would testify at the upcoming hearings against the rate hike request.”I intend to reiterate that the record high rate increase they are asking for is unjustified without reforms to Con Ed's management structure – greater oversight, competition from other utilities and audits by the PSC,” state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said.Residents who cannot attend one of the upcoming hearings can also submit testimony to the PSC's Albany office by Feb. 8 or call the agency's hotline at 1-800-335-2120.Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.