Local seniors are getting the cold shoulder from PSEG Long Island electric rate increases, which have forced those on fixed incomes to make difficult and dangerous living decisions — and they’re not going to take it anymore.
Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) led a protest against the rate hikes with vocal seniors from Leisure Village, Leisure Glen and Leisure Knoll at the Leisure Village clubhouse in Ridge Jan. 10.
Representatives from the senior communities gathered to voice their concerns that the recent revisions to the rates have been harmful and “debilitating” to them. Some residents, of which a large majority are in their 70s and 80s, have to debate whether or not to heat their homes and pay for food or heat their homes and pay for their prescription medications because they just can’t afford all three.
Carole Leonard, president of the board of directors at Leisure Village, said it’s “insane” seniors have to live this way.
“They’re absolutely freezing. They keep electric so low and some are still seeing [up to] $600-$700 electric bills each month,” she said. “There are residents who sit in their house with blankets on them because they’re cold and they’re afraid to turn the heat up because of the rates.”
Mike Elkins, a retired resident, has been reduced to turning the heat on in just one room in his condo.
“It’s really bad,” he said. “As you get older, you get more pains and aches and with [these bills], you just can’t make the house comfortable and affordable at the same time.”
The revisions from PSEG at the start of the new year have made rates higher than the originally announced $3.50 increase; so now the average customer using 775 kWh of energy in a month will see an increase of $7.57, or 5.4 percent, in their total energy bill. Customers who use 762 kWh will see their bills increase by $6.44. Because residents living in Leisure Village, Leisure Glen and Leisure Knoll rely on electricity for everything, even cooking, their use of kilowatt-hours in the winter is projected to double and even triple the average 775 projected by PSEG, which would bring their increases to $15-$22.
The LIPA bill also includes a decoupling charge and delivery service adjustment fees, all implemented in 2016 giving LIPA permission to recoup revenue that fluctuates due to weather, green energy and labor agreements. The energy costs hit seniors the hardest.
At the protest, Anker, with full support of the residents as well as AARP, pushed for the PSEG board to revisit the rate increases and consider the impact the hikes have on the overall senior population.
“As you get older, you get more pains and aches and with [these bills], you just can’t make the house comfortable and affordable at the same time.”
The legislator also called for New York State to create an independent utility consumer advocate — a special department that will provide oversight and accountability and possibly challenge heightened rates and fees. There are only 10 states in the country that don’t have this department, and New York is one of them.
She said California saved consumers $4 billion since establishing its own advocate agency.
“Having the consumer advocate would level the playing field between the consumer and the utility companies and we’d be in better shape,” Anker said. “The most important thing we can do is communicate.”
Anker said she hopes the message reaches PSEG Long Island, the New York Public Service Commission, the New York Department of Public Service and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who was speaking in Farmingville the same day calling for 30 miles of wind turbine farms in Montauk, as part of his initiative to have 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.
“How dare Gov. Cuomo,” said Leonard. “We’re gonna pay for something vacationers will have when we can’t, at this moment, pay for our food, medication and keep warm? Something has to be done. We need a senior advocate on the Public Service Commission who’s going to speak for us. We are tired of these rate heights pushed on us.”