By Jeremy Walsh
As Consolidated Edison's 22 percent rate hike takes effect, Queens residents are feeling the heat and elected officials are stoking the flames.
On Aug. 14, the fifth anniversary of the 2003 city blackout, district leaders and legislators from the city and state announced a postcard signature petition to get the utility to reverse the rate hike and the Public Service Commission to conduct more oversight.
“Admittedly, I like my air conditioning, but this is an outrage,” said Jackson Heights Democratic District Leader Daniel Dromm at a protest last Thursday in front of the Jackson Heights post office. “Con Ed places shareholder profits over customer concerns and customer well-being.”
City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside), who has been critical of Con Ed since the 2006 blackout that affected most of western Queens, called the utility “an unresponsive and gravely unregulated monopoly,” noting that the rates of electricity customers an hour's drive north of the city are 63 percent lower.
“Air conditioning is not a luxury for a senior in the middle of summer,” he said. “It is a necessity.”
Con Ed spokeswoman Elizabeth Clark blamed the rising rates on higher raw energy costs.
“Elected officials would serve their constituents more effectively and help lower electric bills by working to bring down the cost of natural gas and oil — and taxes,” she said in an e-mail.
State Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) said the state should consider reregulating the electric power industry, which was deregulated in the 1990s. He said the subject has not been recently discussed in Albany.
“If there isn't any [bill] out there being supported, I'll introduce something,” he said.
Jackson Heights resident Sheila Crowley, 80, said her bill shot up from $105 in June to $204 in July for her two-bedroom apartment.
When asked if she would have to do without other purchases to keep up with her utility bill, she said she was not sure.
“I need the air,” she said.
Debbie DiGiau, president of the Southridge Co-op Section 3 in Jackson Heights, said the 360-unit complex had a $38,000 Con Ed bill for May. It shot up to $51,000 in June, and to $61,000 in July.
“How much can you cut back?” she said. “You can't get blood from a stone.”
Not everyone has been blasting the air conditioning this year.
Jackson Heights resident Laura Cadorette said she took down her window-mounted air conditioner last year and chose not to put it back up this summer to save energy.
“My energy use went down, but my bill was up $12,” she said. “I still feel like I'm playing a shell game.”
Businesses, too, are feeling the sting of higher rates.
Shiv Dass, a member of the 74th Street Merchants Association in Jackson Heights, said he has seen the monthly Con Ed bills for his store go from $500 three years ago to $1,500 this summer.
“It's hurting small businesses,” he said. “Some are paying $2,000 a month for rent and nearly as much for electricity.”
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.