No power, no rate hike.
That’s what Ramapo town Supervisor Christopher P. St. Lawrence is telling the state Public Service Commission. He wants the agency to suspend a rate hike request from Orange and Rockland Utilities pending an investigation into O&R’s handling of power outages from Saturday’s freak Halloween Weekend snow storm.
St. Lawrence contends O&R has failed to provide adequate information to the thousands of families who remain without power several days after the storm that hit the region this past Saturday.
Thousands or Rocklanders remain without power this morning, with O&R saying 90 percent of them should be back by Thursday night. The utility was shooting for that rate by tonight, but the company says the amount of damage from the snowstorm is slowing down power restoration efforts. Throughout the county, an especially in Clarkstown, many local streets remain blocked by tangled messes of downed trees and power lines.
As of 8 a.m., 21,361 O&R customers in Rockland County are still without power, including 6,586 in Clarkstown, 3,040 in Orangetown and about 7,000 throughout the Town of Ramapo.
Clarkstown police said on Tuesday that so far, the freak stowstorm has led to many more calls for help than they received in the same period during and after Hurricane Irene — more than 1,000 calls beyond the level of the Irene emergency.
In a letter sent Tuesday to PSC Secretary Jaclyn A. Brilling, St. Lawrence wrote that he is appalled at the lack of restoration of power to Ramapo residents, and said that he finds the inability of the public to ascertain from O&R when their power will be turned back on to be deeply disturbing.
“As people struggle to pick up the pieces in the wake of this terrible storm, it is unacceptable that Orange and Rockland is not keeping the public adequately notified as to the status of their power restoration,” wrote St. Lawrence in his letter to the PSC. “As a result of Orange and Rockland’s lackluster effort to keep the public properly informed during a difficult and trying time for many families throughout the Town of Ramapo and Rockland County, thousands of people are being kept in the dark, both literally and figuratively.”
O&R issued a statement through a spokesman in response to St. Lawrence’s letter to the PSC:
“We have important, serious work before us: restoring power to over 120,000 customers. Many of the key elements for our successful service restoration operations are supported by the rate case filing, and to suspend that case runs counter to our customers’ interests.”
St. Lawrence said that until an investigation is into O&R’s response to the storm, the Public Service Commission should suspend O&R’s multi-million dollar rate hike request.
“The PSC must not allow Orange and Rockland to keep going back to the ratepayers looking for a handout until such time as they get their house in order and figure out how to streamline communication with their customers and disseminate critical information to families when they need it most,” St. Lawrence said.
In July 2011, Orange and Rockland filed a request with the PSC seeking approval of an electric base rate increase of $17.7 million. On Oct. 28, O&R increased its rate request by $7.8 million due to storm damage from Hurricane Irene, among many other factors.
St. Lawrence said that means that Orange and Rockland is now seeking to increase delivery rates by a total of $25.6 million, or 44% higher than the original filing.
O&R’s latest request for a rate increase came shortly after the PSC approved another rate hike request from O&R and granted them an increase in electric rates that would raise the average ratepayer’s monthly bill by 2.7%.
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