Con Ed's Rate Hike Request Blasted
Citing Con Edison's failures which led to last summer's disastrous nine-day blackout in Western Queens, that area's lawmakers roundly blasted the giant utility's latest rate hike request, which would swell its revenues by $1.2 billion over a three-year period.
Describing the utility's request as "arrogant", "shocking" and "outrageous", the local lawmakers, joined by Governor Eliot Spitzer and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, demanded instead more accountability, calling on Con Ed to pay for system upgrades with its own profits.
Con Ed Chairman Kevin M. Burke defended the rate increase. According to the New York Times, he claimed it is intended to make planned improvements in the underground network in Long Island City, although he made no mention of the blackout which originated there.
Burke said that beside the proposed rate increase, the company will be investing more than $7.5 billion over the next five years to expand and enhance the electric delivery system for New Yorkers. The rate proposal would allow for significant investments in the electric delivery infrastructure, as well as additional demand reduction and energy-efficiency initiatives.
Burke continued, "Electricity use has increased more than 20 percent over the past 10 years, and we are responding with a two-fold approach. The company has proposed energy conservation and carbon dioxide emission reductions." He explained the energy efficiency measures would help slow the rising demand for power while at the same time, "We need to increase our investments if we are to maintain a reliable, resilient and robust infrastructure necessary to meet the needs of a growing population and an increasing demand for electricity."
The filing begins a year-long public review process with the state Public Service Commission, and we look forward to a dialogue with elected officials and others on how to meet the growing energy needs of New York."
Congressmember Joseph Crowley (D- Queens/The Bronx), who rallied his Elmhurst and Woodside constituents during the blackout, stated: "After months of discussions as to how it can reallocate resources to improve standards of efficiency and transmission, this profitable company is unfortunately saddling its customers with the bill."
Crowley continued: "This significant rate hike seems to unfairly burden residents and businesses in Queens. From the series of reports issued in the past months, it is clear Con Ed's own failures led to the widespread power outages that left nearly 200,000 people in the dark last summer for over a week in Queens."
Crowley concluded, "State regulators must urge Con Ed to upgrade its system without unjustly placing the burden on consumers."
Assemblymember Michael Gianaris (D- Astoria) called the rate hike request to the Public Service Commission "utterly shocking".
"New Yorkers already pay the highest electric rates in the nation and a further increase of 17 percent for residents and 10.7 percent for businesses cannot be justified, given Con Ed's established failure to spend its monies in the right places," he declared.
Gianaris, who in coming weeks is introducing a package of bills to facilitate competition and increased regulation to the industry, charged: "While the monopoly is reaping profits in the hundreds of millions of dollars, it is failing in its mission to deliver reliable electric service. New measures of accountability are needed to ensure that Con Edison spends its funds responsibly before any rate hikes are considered."
State Senator George Onorato (D- Astoria) declared that the "outrageous" rate increase requested "gives new meaning to the old saying that 'the lights are on but nobody's home.' After the Western Queens blackout debacle last year, and amid recent reports of significant stray voltage hot spots throughout the city being guarded by livery drivers to protect passing pedestrians, what can Con Edison be thinking?"
Onorato concluded, "This plan, without question, is totally unacceptable. Ratepayers, who have already suffered enough, should not be forced to shoulder this burden in light of the company's own negligence in maintaining the Long Island City network and in light of other serious management missteps."
Local Astoria representative City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. (D) asked, "Is there no end to the arrogance? Con Ed needs to be heavily fined and held accountable for its past negligence, not burden the people of New York with more fees to pay for its own problems.
"The businesses in Northwest Queens have barely recovered from the damage caused by Con Ed, and now they have the unmitigated gall to demand more money."
Vallone stated, "The only thing more arrogant than this would be to open a Con Ed bill collecting center in the former storefront of the Cold Stone Creamery in Astoria that shut down because of the blackout."
Commenting on the Con Ed rate increase request, Councilmember Eric Gioia (D- Long Island City) stated: "We already pay some of the highest rates in the country and for them to ask for a rate increase after blacking out hundreds of thousands last summer is to add insult to injury."
Gioia said he had written to the PSC in March asking the regulatory body to hold Con Ed accountable for its failures and to refuse the rate hike. He said he would renew his appeal to that agency, now that Con Ed has filed its rate increase request.
Spitzer echoed the sentiments of the local lawmakers in a statement issued by an aide in which he declared: "We are very concerned about the burden this rate hike will place on already strapped residents and business owners."
The statement went on to acknowledge the serious need for infrastructure improvements, but then repeated that how the improvements are made must be considered without unfairly burdening consumers.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg commented that the rate hike requested must be judged "on the merits, not politics". He noted that Con Ed's 1,800- page proposal to the PSC must be analyzed "based on the facts, not political influence".
But Silver's reaction was much harsher. The powerful Democrat declared, "Con Edison's bold attempt to once again extract a blank check from ratepayers flies in the face of common logic.
"The mere act of asking for such an outrageous rate increase is particularly astonishing for a utility that has consistently demonstrated a lack of concern for its customers."
The PSC last February issued a scathing report on the Queens blackout, saying it resulted from a failure by Con Ed to properly maintain and operate its equipment.
Then last month, it voted to begin a formal proceeding to determine the prudence of Con Ed's actions before, during and after the blackout. This proceeding could result in heavy fines and penalties against the company.
An eyewitness sent police in Hernandez's direction and he was arrested after a brief struggle with cops, police said.
One officer, injured in the scuffle, was treated and released at Long Island Jewish Hospital.
Hernandez is facing a laundry list of charges, including burglary, grand larceny, reckless endangerment and resisting arrest, authorities said.
Cops arrested three men on April 30 and charged them with roughing up a 33-year-old man during a knifepoint robbery on a Woodside street corner.
Police said Omar Flores, 20, Carlos Gonzales, 19, and another unidentified male accosted the victim and shoved him to the pavement on Roosevelt Avenue near 65th Street at about 2:35 a.m.
At least one of the thugs flashed a box cutter and threatened to slash the victim while stealing his cash and cellphone, police said.
Police nabbed the suspects at the scene. They were charged with robbery, assault and weapons possession.
Police arrested a 31-year-old Flushing woman on April 29 for possessing a fake Social Security card.
Police sources said Gie Vin of 35th Avenue, Flushing was busted with the phony card inside 139-76 35th Ave., Flushing.
Vin was charged with felony possession of a forged instrument, police said.
Police officials did not disclose how they tracked down Vin with the fake card.
A 22-year-old Flushing man pulled over by cops for driving drunk, got himself in even deeper trouble on April 29, when he gave police at the 111th Precinct a phony name during arrest processing.
Cops stopped Robert Nicha at about 2:55 a.m. when they spotted him driving erratically on Bell Boulevard. That's when Nicha tried to fool the cops with a fake name, police said.
Nicha was arrested and charged with drunk driving, unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and giving police the false name.
A 28-year-old East Elmhurst man found himself behind bars last week after he elbowed a cop and pushed the officer into a tree during questioning on April 28.
Police said Harris Ceballos was stopped by cops on 81st Street and 25th Avenue for questioning on charges that he was drunk and disorderly.
Ceballos elbowed one of the cops in the chest and pushed him against a tree after the officers found three bags containing cocaine in his pockets, police said.
Ceballos was charged with assault on a police officer, resisting arrest and criminal possession of a controlled substance.