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PSEG balanced billing customers see increases

A PSEG-Long Island truck in Hicksville. The switch

A PSEG-Long Island truck in Hicksville. The switch from LIPA to PSEG-Long Island went "very well," said Dave Daly, president and COO of PSEG-Long Island. Credit: Newsday, 2013 / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

More than half of PSEG Long Island's balanced-billing customers saw an adjustment -- likely upward -- in their monthly electric bill over the past two months, as spiking energy costs and usage took a toll even on mechanisms meant to stabilize bills.

Of the 481,011 customers with balanced billing, 256,919 saw an adjustment over the period, likely tied to power supply charge increases, higher usage or a combination. PSEG says swings of more than 10 percent in the 12-month trend for electric bills will trigger an adjustment in balanced billing, which is intended to reduce spiking bills by spreading the costs over a year.

Another 105,564 balanced-billing customers whose annual anniversary date in the program came up in the past two months also saw adjustments in their future monthly payments, PSEG said. The utility serves 1.1 million customers.

But even as it institutes the new charges, the utility said it plans to review the balanced-billing program to bring it in line with utility best practices.

"We are evaluating the program this year, and looking to make changes to make it more effective and a better program for our customers," spokesman Jeffrey Weir said. While he said it's likely the vast majority of the adjusted customers saw an increase in their annualized bill, the utility could not say for certain which way all bills changed.

Pat Raynor of Ridge can. The retiree lives in the Leisure Knoll community with all-electric heat, and the change meant an increase of 25 percent in her monthly bill, to $235 from $188 beginning this month.

"It's not just me," she said. "All of my friends just got their highest bills, too."

The power supply portion of bills surged to a record high of 11.6 cents a kilowatt hour in February, and trends in natural gas pricing suggest it could increase next month. The February charge is more than 2 cents a kilowatt hour above that of last February. The cold weather has also increased usage, compounding the increase.

For balanced-billing customers, the increase is no small potatoes.

"Speaking as a ratepayer, I was quite surprised by the extent of the increase," said Matthew Cordaro, a Long Island Power Authority trustee who was an executive at the former Long Island Lighting Co. when balanced billing was introduced. Minimizing high oil prices and the impact of the Shoreham nuclear plant were the primary reasons for it, he said.

Cordaro said he plans to explore the reasons for the sharp increase with LIPA.

"Increases of this magnitude definitely have to be a burden to ratepayers," said Cordaro, whose balanced billing payment is set to jump to $275 next month from a current $222. "It has usually come down for us over the years," he said.

Raynor, who like many in Leisure Knoll lives on a fixed income, said the change has led to a scramble. "This is a big thing for us," she said. "It's a big chunk of our income."

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