With Long Islanders about $23 million in arrears in paying their electric bills during the pandemic, PSEG Long Island is working with LIPA to create programs to help business districts get back on their feet as lockdown restrictions lift across the region.
The company on Friday launched a program to provide up to $5,000 in rebates for business districts and Chambers of Commerce to expand outdoor areas for dining and other activities. East Hampton town has said it is eyeing changes that would allow more outdoor activity in the hamlets of Montauk and Amagansett, including closing parts of Montauk’s Main Street one day a week, said Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc. The $150,000 PSEG program can be used for outdoor lighting, seating and tables, among other things.
“During the pandemic, we want to make sure we step things up” to support up to 40 business districts across Long Island and Rockaways that would be eligible, said Daniel Eichhorn, president and chief operating officer of PSEG Long Island. The $150,000 program will come from the company’s operating budget. PSEG operates the electric grid for LIPA, the state authority that owns the system.
Efficient lighting rebate
The company is also launching a Small Business First program to provide upward of $2,500 in rebates to upgrade to more efficient lighting, which can help lower bills, Eichhorn said, adding, “We want to make sure we continue to help the small businesses out as much as possible."
The $23 million increase in late customer payments is a direct result of pandemic-related financial difficulties, and Eichhorn said new state laws will continue to help customers.
“We know customers are having a harder time paying. We’re trying to be flexible with them,” he said, noting the company is offering deferred payment plans while “encouraging them to pay something if they can. We’re not shutting people off."
At a LIPA trustee meeting Wednesday, LIPA chief Tom Falcone noted commercial accounts in arrears more than 60 days jumped to $33 million this year, compared with $17 million this time last year, while residential accounts more than 60 days past due jumped to $103 million compared with last year’s $96 million. LIPA’s cash receipts through May are $13 million lower than the period for 2019, he said.
Still, Falcone called the declines “very manageable from a cash flow perspective.”
LIPA’s decision to suspend late payments could have a revenue impact of from $5 million to $9 million, he said, while higher projected write-offs could total $12 million to $20 million, he said.
PSEG maintains a policy that bars shutting off customers’ electric service due to nonpayment during the pandemic. New York State last week enacted a bill that formalized the policy for residential customers and extended it for six months after the state of emergency is lifted in the state, meaning the no-shutoff policy will remain in place until next year. Eichhorn said the company for now is applying the same policy to business customers.
During the height of the pandemic in April and May, commercial electric use declined around 15%, while residential customer use increased. Eichhorn said commercial use is beginning to return to normal levels as Phase 3 reopenings approach.
The new business programs are launched as New Jersey-based PSEG works across its operating companies and regions to develop protocols for opening up following the March start of the pandemic that effectively sent more than half of its Long Island workforce to work from home, and kept workers from entering customer homes except in emergencies.
That meant an end to in-home meter reads, in-home repairs, and all energy-efficiency work. PSEG has already installed smart meters on more than half its 1.1 million customer homes, nearly a year ahead of schedule, precluding the need to send a meter reader to those homes.
“We’ve notified employees that we’re not even thinking of bringing them back” to PSEG offices until at least Labor Day in early September, when the company will reassess the situation, Eichhorn said, adding that workers in some areas of business have been more productive working from home.