Don’t leave seniors powerless: Simotas

Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (at podium) has introduced a bill calling for a review of utility shutdowns. Courtesy Aravella Simotas
By Rebecca Henely

Based on an AARP report measuring the rate of residential customer turnoffs by electric service providers across the state, state Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) recently introduced legislation calling for a review of how shutdowns are done, but Con Edison said the report is flawed.

The national retiree interest group did a study in March tracking how often electricity providers in New York state terminate service to their customers and found Con Ed shut off service at least 5,000 times each month in 2010 and terminated service 93,469 times throughout the year. The company with the second highest number of shutdowns throughout 2010 was National Grid with 53,972 shutdowns.

“We are under the impression that affects a lot of senior citizens and a lot of people with young children,” Simotas said.

In light of this report, Simotas said she introduced legislation to have the state Public Service Commission conduct a review of the process by November 2011. If the review is not completed by then, the bill calls for a moratorium on shutdowns between Dec. 14 to March 31, 2012.

Con Edison did not respond to queries about the bill by press time Tuesday evening, but said the AARP’s report is misleading. It said 70 percent of its gas customers only use gas for cooking, not heat.

The utility said it did not enact electric or gas turnoffs for residents 62 or older between Nov. 1 and April 15.

“We do not turn off anyone when it is extremely hot or cold,” Con Edison said. “We work closely with customers who have difficulty paying their bills and offer them alternative payment plans.”

Yet Simotas said when her constituents spoke to her, many were worried about how they would pay their bills in the difficult economy.

“It obviously makes sense with all the cuts to Social Security and the increasing cost of everything else,” Simotas said. “People are going to have trouble making ends meet.”

The assemblywoman said she also heard that Con Ed does not keep data on customers’ ages when their power is shut off. She said she did not want Con Edison to stop collecting payments or levying fees, but asked for a closer look.

“We’re not telling you these customers shouldn’t pay for electricity,” Simotas said.

Con Edison said they do keep track of customers before they shut off their service by giving them a 90-day notice and trying to get in touch with them several times.

“The company disconnects a customer’s service only as a last resort and works to be particularly understanding in difficult economic times,” Con Edison said.

Simotas said her bill is meant to be a companion to a bill by Assemblyman Guillermo Linares (D-Manhattan), who introduced a measure that would make the PSC submit a review of existing protection policies each year to the governor and state Legislature.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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