Energy utility affordability is a widespread crisis for low-income people and particularly, low income people of color. Nationally, energy utility companies have continued to increase their rates throughout the last decade, and the Mid-Hudson River Valley area is no exception. The monopoly energy provider for the city of Poughkeepsie and two counties in the Mid-Hudson River Valley, Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp., has proposed delivery charge rate increases of 13.5% for electricity and 18.5% for natural gas, putting already vulnerable communities who can’t afford the area’s rates, in a more compromising situation. These double-digit rate increases would also escalate the amount of shutoffs. In addition, utilities are a matter of life or death because people need it to chill their insulin, or keep their children warm. It should not be made a non-option to people who need it just because they can’t afford it.
Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, a grassroots organization based in Poughkeepsie, is fighting for an affordable energy system in the Mid-Hudson Valley and statewide. The Public Service Commission held public hearings on October 3rd and 10th, to determine whether or not the rate hikes would pass. At these hearings, Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson members, allies, and Executive Director, Jonathan Bix, spoke out against Central Hudson’s proposed rate hike. In addition to this however, the Public Service Commission also needs to hold additional public hearings for this rate case, in order to explore solutions for low-income customers such as representation.
Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson’s members have been directly impacted by Central Hudson’s high rates and have shared their stories. Angela lives in Poughkeepsie and has several health issues such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure, and asthma, for which she requires daily breathing treatments. She has to have a nebulizer and have treatments during the day. She said, “I need my electricity in order to live. This is a very hurtful and stressful ordeal, that you’re sitting home and at any given moment, they can cut your lights off. That happened to me. I was getting treatment, and they cut off my lights. I wound up in the hospital, where I had to stay until I could get help for them to put my electricity back on, so that I could come home.” Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson helped Angela work with Central Hudson to stop these shutoffs that were detrimental to her health.
Another Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson member, Akiya, has been a Poughkeepsie resident for about 28 years. Akiya’s heat was shut off every winter. At one point, she even had to throw away four big garbage bags of food because she didn’t have power and the food went bad. She said that “being an elder in this community, I really felt ashamed and embarrassed, that I was put in a position that I was in. I have a job, I work, and I have given so much to the community, that I didn’t see no reason why I would be subjected to the situation that I was in.” She tried to tell Central Hudson her story, but they wouldn’t listen. They just kept telling her that she was getting shut off, prompting her to ask, “What kind of human being does that to another human being?”
Member, Mary Grace, just moved to Poughkeepsie in December of last year and has four young girls. Once she got here, she didn’t know to weatherproof her house. She said that at one point, “All my kids and me, we had to sleep in one room because it heats up a lot better than if we were spread out. We had fleece blankets and flannel blankets, but that wasn’t enough, so I’d have to crank the heat up a little bit more.” Her bill was just running because the cold air was coming in and out of the house. In addition, Central Hudson knew what her monthly income minus rent was and then sent her a bill that exceeded that amount. They asked if she wanted an extension, but she still wouldn’t have been able to pay it.
A common theme throughout these stories is Central Hudson increasing the amount on the bills, without telling residents. When asked about the reasoning behind such increases, the company is unable to provide an adequate answer. Standing up for people’s rights in regards to utilities is important because the utility companies have neglected people’s basic rights in order to gain profits. Central Hudson’s rates are already extremely high, and double-digit rate increases would worsen this affordability crisis. Energy is a basic human right and a necessity that people need to care for themselves and their families. The New York State Department of Public Service is still deliberating on whether or not to pass this proposed rate hike. Do your part to help prevent a rate hike by submitting a public comment here.