Wednesday, March 13, 2013

RIRA Rep Seeks Answers To Manhattan Park Electricity Submetering - As A Result, Building Management Invites Rep To End Leasehold, They Don't Want Unhappy Tenants


Understanding Your Con Ed Electricity Bill from NY Times

Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) Manhattan Park Common Council Member Mark Lyon reports:
Manhattan Park and several other Roosevelt Island housing developments submeter electricity instead of allowing residents to purchase their electrical service directly from Con Edison.  While controversial, the NY Public Service Commission has strongly pushed submetering as an environmentally friendly measure that provides incentives for conservation and which also has the potential to offer electrical service at a lower rate than direct metering.

Unfortunately, efforts at submetering have neglected to consider a number of issues including the loss of incentives for landlords to provide energy efficient structures and appliances and the risk that some landlords may not be well suited to also performing the duties of a utility provider.  Coupled with the regrettable decisions of RIOC and its predecessor organizations in failing to require developers to make use of the existing island steam plant for effective, low-cost district heating, Roosevelt Islanders find themselves, in many cases, paying significant sums for electric heat to keep their apartments at a comfortable temperature during cold weather.

In December, the PSC adopted new rules for submetering. After reviewing these new rules, I thought it prudent, as a member of RIRA, to evaluate the impact of these changes on my electrical service and at similar submetered buildings on the Island. To legally submeter electrical service, individual PSC orders granting such authority to each development are required. As an initial step, I sought out the approved orders for all Roosevelt Island buildings.  I was able to easily locate the orders for The Octagon and Roosevelt Landings, but not for Manhattan Park.  When I submitted a records request, the PSC indicated that no such order could be found.

I reached out to the Manhattan Park management office, but received no response to my request for evidence of their approved submetering order.  As a result, I registered a complaint with the Secretary of the PSC, expressing my concern over the lack of an accessible copy of the order and also pointed out several issues with the way submetering is handled at the complex.  Many of the concerns I outlined have been shared with me by numerous other residents and affect everyone.  Fearing retaliation, however, few are willing to approach the management office with their concerns.

Manhattan Park responded by sending documents they claim indicate their approval to submeter and ignoring the other complaints.  In their response, they note that I am a “market rate tenant” with “market rate electrical consuming devices, the use of which [I] should pay for.” My complaints, however, are not about receiving free electricity. Instead, they are about ensuring management operates in accordance with the rules, laws and protections afforded to utility customers. Manhattan Park then invited me to end my tenancy (even though I have a year remaining in my lease) because they “prefer to have tenants who are not unhappy with their leasehold.”  I visited the management office and requested the attachments (which they intentionally omitted from my copy of the response), but the request was refused; I was instructed to contact the PSC for copies.

Finding this response more than a bit odd, I contacted the PSC to request copies of the attachments and to reiterate my concerns with the handling of submetering at Manhattan Park.  Those attachments have not yet been provided.  Even if the attachments to the letter demonstrated proper authority to provide submetering, there are still concerns to be addressed.  These include:

* Potentially charging more for electrical service than would otherwise be charged if tenants received directly metered service (violating the PSC's "rate cap" applied to most submetered service).

* Requiring a utility deposit before providing service (generally, utility deposits are allowed only in circumstances where a customer has a track record of missing payments).

* Failing to provide utility bills in a clear and understandable form.  Currently, the utility charges are added as a line item on our rent statements, showing a total kWh usage only.  PSC rules require additional information, including present and previous meter readings, on bills.

* Requiring excessive late fees.

* Delivering combined rent and utility bills on or after the due date.

* Failing to provide yearly Home Energy Fair Practices Act notices.

Two of the most critical issues with utility billing at Manhattan Park are the late distribution of bills and the lack of information about the service provided. Without access to the meters, historical readings or to the rates that will be charged, residents have no way to measure their electrical usage and anticipate the charges that might appear on their next bill.  Giving residents precious little time to pay before imposing late charges, while simultaneously providing almost no transparency creates a situation in which tenants can be easily abused.

The Public Service Commission is currently investigating these complaints.  Other complaints regarding overcharging, cross-wiring (where the power that you pay for is used for things outside your apartment like hallway lights or ventilation fans), billing practices (including threats of eviction or excessive late fees) or any other issues can be reported to the PSC online, by phone or by mail.  If others are experiencing issues with their submetered electrical service, I urge them to contact the PSC.
I asked Manhattan Park management if they wish to comment on the matter. They have not replied but will update if they do comment.

72 comments:

Mark Lyon said...

The past two days have been interesting.

Yesterday, the management office called and asked to come do an energy audit on our apartment. They took photos of our desktop and laptop computer, checked the wattage of LED bulbs in our floor lamps and looked around for other electrical devices.


During their visit they spoke with my wife who tried, yet again, to explain to them that our concerns center around Manhattan Park following the rules and procedures for providing submetered electrical service (particularly since they chose to offload the expense of providing heat to their residents by installing electric heaters), not about a specific concern related to inaccuracy in our individual bills. We have always paid our rent and utility charges on time, delayed only when we must wait for them to deliver the statements (since we have no way of knowing the total charges until the bill is delivered). Unfortunately, I think the only concerns they've dealt with to date relate to individual tenants concerned about the amount of their bills - they seem woefully unequipped to address a larger concern about their obligations as a utility provider.

This morning, we were treated to the soothing vibrations of a jackhammer being used in the apartment above ( https://vine.co/v/bdKLJKdKqF6 ). When I visited the management office, they indicated the apartment was getting new cabinetry and the noise would end in a few hours.


I enjoy living on Roosevelt Island and truly think Manhattan Park is a lovely complex in which to live. The only major concern we've had during our time here is the lack of transparency in the management office.

YetAnotherRIer said...

Manhattan Park management is one of the worst apartment building managements I've ever experienced. Incompetent people through and through. There is so much nonsense going on at 30 River Road it makes me wonder how these people ever got their jobs in the first place.

wtlong said...

We'd love to have you at the Octagon, Mark. The apartments are separately metered, you could keep your seat on the RIRA Common Council and you'd be able to take the Express Bus.

Jo said...

receiving our rent invoice and utility bills late is definitely a problem, and I do think that they should provide a breakdown of the utilities. I understand that they can do this if you request it (I overheard someone else requesting it whilst in the management office). Surely it wouldn't be too difficult to provide a printout or even an email with the breakdown each month?

YetAnotherRIer said...

Breakdown in what way? What's missing, IMHO, is tenant access to the meters. We should be able to verify the amount of electricity they billed us. Also, the billing cycle for electricity ends on the 15th of the previous month, i.e. it does not line up with your rental bills.

HardWorkingMom said...

We too are very disappointed with our recent decision to lease with Manhattan Park. The writing was on the wall when we received our first bill for rent (March 2nd). Which included a late charge, how were we we to know how much to pay and where to send it to when you deliver the bill late? More over we questioned them on why after only 13 days in the apartment, most of which we had NO lights, NO television to operate our electricity was so high ($200). They explained that it was the weather etc. When we requested a bill, they said they could not provide us with one. Interesting because everywhere else we rented could! I am certain we are paying for the building's lights, heat, and recent construction!
As educated individuals who work too hard to afford the overpriced rent here, we will seek legal advice if they want to play hardball with forfeiting a copy of our individual apartment's meter usage.

Glad to hear we are not the only ones smart enough to realize they are taking our money.

Mark Lyon said...

The law requires that the bills show the starting and ending meter readings (otherwise, even being able to access the meter is meaningless, since you don't know where the count starts) and that any fees be separate from the usage charges (so that one can calculate the rate charged per kWh).


I understand that some other submeter systems actually place a readout in the apartment or for systems similar to that at MP (which are connected to the floor-level power distribution), make the readings available online, in real (or near-real) time.

YetAnotherRIer said...

Our electricity bill was a lot higher this month than the last few months as well. It was on par with the previous years, though. I am not doubting their explanation that it was due to the weather because the previous months the winter was very mild and it only started to become a lot colder starting mid-January (this month's bill bills for electricity from Jan 15 - Feb 15). The electric heaters are extremely expensive to operate. My advice is to look for space heaters and use those instead.

Mark Lyon said...

One of the best purchases we've made for our apartment has been an oil-filled radiator style heater. It's far better for the bedroom and is silent. There are plenty of models, this is the one we chose: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000TGDGLU/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B000TGDGLU&linkCode=as2&tag=marlyo-20

mpresident said...

Our electric bill has been consistently around $45-50 for the last 5 years, and I haven't seen any changes lately. I found it strange that we were out of town with all lights/energy off from Jan 15-25 and our bill was on the higher end this cycle though (exactly $50).


Also, we requested that management install newer digital heating/ac units in our apartment, and they did so within 1 month of my request. They work much better than the old units and cold air doesn't leak in around them!

YetAnotherRIer said...

Thanks for this comment. I'll see how willing they are to replace our heating/cooling units. The leaking cold air through the units and the windows is the biggest concern I have.

Mark Lyon said...

To help facilitate a better understanding of the utility rates being charged on the island, I invite everyone to submit their submetered electrical charge information at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1UAhte0Hh53xTPGqIF6cHqm8tYrfplKzU39D0tAWbnmI/viewform

YetAnotherRIer said...

How do you want us to put in the flex apartments? As an extra bedroom if the tenant installed a wall and turned the dining area into a bedroom? 2-flex would a 1BR w/o wall and a 2BR with wall. Or should we just count heating units?

Mark Lyon said...

I've added options for flexed apartments.

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Mark Lyon said...

This was sent via Building Link yesterday.


They also delivered rent statements on Friday, before they were due. Usual practice has been to leave them on the due date.

===
Dear Residents,

Please be aware that there was a "rate increase" from the last billing period.

A factor which will affect the electric charge, is the rate Con Edison charges per KWH. It varies, depending on the rates they pay for their raw materials. The last billing cycle (1/13/13-2/13/13) was 0.185 per KWH, this billing cycle (2/13/13-3/13/13) was .218 per KWH.

Also, please look for a statement (not a bill) from Quadlogic Controls with more detailed information on the meter readings and charges.

Thank you
Manhattan Park Management

CheshireKitty said...

This doesn't make sense. I don't remember paying a varying electric bill (i.e. with varying KWH rate) when I was living in non-submetered apts before moving to RI.

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YetAnotherRIer said...

I know the billing statement says the due date for payment is the first of the month but in reality it has always been the 15th of the next month. Only if they receive pay after that day you are charged a late fee.

YetAnotherRIer said...

Electricity charges always vary between seasons (summers are always more expensive than winters, for example) and from year to year. That has been my experience with buying electricity from ConEd.

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Robert said...

Has anyone else gotten their statement from Quadlogic yet? Mine shows that I'm being charged for readings on two different meters. Does anyone else have this, or does everyone else's statement only show one meter?

Mark Lyon said...

Mine showed up today as well. It also lists two meters.

I think the reason for the two meters is due to how the submeters are implemented - the units they use to measure our usage are not the traditional wattmeters you would see from ConEd or another utility. Instead, our power is measured with a clip-on CT probe in an electrical panel somewhere that wraps around each cable supplying the apartment with power. Since each apartment has two phases (basically, two wires providing 120v of power are needed so that we can get 240v for the HVAC systems), there need to be two probes.

The problem with using a CT probe is that they don't measure Watts - which is what we're billed for. They measure volts and amps. It's possible to calculate watts from that reading, but you must assume the power factor of the load. The power factor is basically the efficiency. 1 is best, but most devices with large motors are closer to .90-.94. When you consider the largest loads in your apartment are likely the HVAC and refrigerator, the formula may be providing slightly different results than would be obtained with a real, utility grade wattmeter.

Did your readings provide one decimal place of accuracy? Mine show one decimal place, but it's .0 across the board. That seems unusual. If they're measuring to .1, why are all my usages in whole kWh?



This month, after making every possible effort to avoid using the heaters, our usage was 699.0 kWh, billed as $152.66 plus taxes of $7.16 and an admin fee of $6.50, for a total of $166.32.

CheshireKitty said...

OK, thanks. I wasn't aware of this years ago when I was directly paying my electric bill.

CheshireKitty said...

Maybe they are rounding up the readings but not rounding down. All those fractional amounts could add up to a lot of money eventually.

mpresident said...

Mine was a lot less - $35.40. Our kwh usage was around 130 (don't have the statement in front of me now). It would be interesting to see a comparison of the age of management appliances (fridge/heaters), with the size of apartment and hours of heater use.

deetelecare said...

Well your efforts have basically paid off by going to the PSC--MP was forced to send out a direct statement from QuadLogic. You are at least one person on RIRA who believes it's part of the job to look into MP's management of this situation. I tried some years back to interest another common council member, but her focus was more on the picnics and parties.

Mark Lyon said...

Thanks. I'm not giving up. I'm now working with several of our local politicians to get answers and ensure MP conducts itself within the law.

It appears that in 1980 Starrett mentioned MP along with several other developments in letters it sent to the PSC, but nobody has yet been able to provide an actual approval and authorization for submetering at Manhattan Park. Interestingly, the 1980 documentation indicates that meters will be in the apartments - where residents could monitor them. As we know, the meters at MP are hidden away in a nonpublic area.

Without specific PSC authorization, submetering is illegal. Penalties imposed in earlier cases have ranged all the way up to requiring a full refund of all submetering charges.

pandabaehr said...

Thanks for all your work on this Mark.

deetelecare said...

I had no idea that the parent co. of RIA is Starrett. While they are able to cite a case number, where is the documentation? You'd think either PSC could rapidly confirm via the number, or that MP could provide a copy--which they have clearly refused. Instead there's an interesting 'tone' to this letter.

Again I find it curious that Starrett/MP would not be more aggressive in shopping around for more favorable bulk commercial power rates than Con Ed that would benefit their bottom line. When QuadLogic installed their submetering some years back (they were not the original submetering) things were supposed to be more transparent than less.

deetelecare said...

Re the KWH cost, have you been able to uncover what other buildings on RI (e.g. Octagon, the WIRE buildings, Southtown) pay? A friend of mine here has said other buildings are at 12 cents/kwh.

Mark Lyon said...

I have not. The only information submitted this far has been from MP. At this point, I have the following number of entries on the form for MP: http://imgur.com/iZPPOX2

The monthly average rate (including all taxes and fees, per kWh) is: http://imgur.com/LIbDRoi

Mark Lyon said...

You can enter your own information at http://rates.riny.info

deetelecare said...

I already did. Your totals are not surprising to me. You may not be getting information from other buildings because this is a MP discussion thread--can Blogspot pick this up to invite others to participate?

CheshireKitty said...

Wasn't MP built/finished in 1989? How could the 1980 filing have mentioned MP? Was it already under construction in 1980?


I hope you do persist in your quest to find the PSC authorization. If one was never issued and the submetering has been illegal all along, then the award/refund may well finish the holding co/Starrett/Grenadier financially.

Mark Lyon said...

You are correct. I'm still waiting on a copy of the document, but I did confirm the date was 9 years before it opened.

Apparently, the potential project was mentioned with other developments in some sort of letter. I'd find it incredibly suspect that such a document would grant the authority to submeter - such approval generally must take the form of an order, specific to the development (not the developer). It could prove, however, that Starrett was aware of the requirement to seek approval if they, in fact, failed to do so.

RooseveltIslander said...

good suggestion - will do a separate post to include non Manhattan Park electricity costs as well soon. If anyone has any info on their building electricity costs please post here or email me.

deetelecare said...

You should do a separate article/request. People living in other buildings don't read articles about MP.

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Jo said...

Ours is very similar to yours- 711kwh - totalis $169 for a flex-4 (with the newer digital heating units). We also had the 2 meter readings. I know in places that we have rented in the past we have had 2 meter readings - one that was just for the heating/ac units and one for the remaining electricity and they were billed at different rates. I don't know if that might apply here?

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Mark Lyon said...

After a quite convoluted process, I have finally been able to obtain part of the 1980 documents that Starrett claims evidence their approval to submeter electricity. The documents raise many troubling issues.

A copy is available at http://db.tt/200Dc1s7

I am still waiting to get copies of the supporting application, the study and the minutes of the September 10, 1980 meeting referenced in the cover letter. Astute readers will note that 1980 is almost a decade before Manhattan Park opened.

What is proposed in the staff report is somewhat different from what actually occurred. For example, the development was proposed as 400 market-rate, 400 middle-income and 200 Section 8 units, with management overseen by the Federal Housing Administration.

The study supporting the application conducted on behalf of Starrett considered the July 21, 1979 cost of electricity, gas, oil and steam heating and concluded that submetered electrical heat was marginally cheaper than steam (by around $20/mo) and gas (by around $30/mo). It doesn't appear to have considered the future cost of energy and it's unclear whether the steam source would have been the island's steam plant.

Further, the proposed submetering plan would have provided for an "electronic metering module installation in or adjacent to each apartment". Having access to the meter would provide residents the ability to validate their billed usage, but the final design locks meters away in a staff-only portion of the building, denying tenants this ability.

The billing methods outlined differ from what I've experienced as a tenant. It calls for an electric bill to accompany the rent bill, but all we've received until this month has been a charge and a stated usage - no separate bill meeting NY requirements. They then outline the charges that should be included:

1) An energy charge taken by dividing the ConEd bill by the number of kWh billed by ConEd, then multiplying that by the kWh used by each apartment.

2) A capital recovery charge to recoup the costs of purchasing and installing the system (this should have long be paid for).

3) A maintenance charge estimated at $17.50 per year ($1.46 per month).

4) An administrative charge to cover record maintenance dispute resolution and billing expenses.

Based on the bills sent this month, Manhattan Park is charging a $6.50 admin fee plus sales tax. I'm not certain how they justify the $6.50 charge as it seems the recordkeeping and other duties not associated with regular rent billing that might be considered part of (4) seem to have been rather minimal (and worth far less than ~$60k per year). If the rate is being calculated as outlined in (1), then the sales tax charge is also likely resulting is MP residents paying the taxes charged on the ConEd bill (and included in the kWh rate) AND the additional tax paid to MP.



I am continuing to work with the PSC and several of our elected officials to seek further answers to the submetering situation at Manhattan Park.

CheshireKitty said...

It would be interesting to find out why Starrett shifted the 400 middle-class units to market-rate (although they could have been produced under the Sec 236 or the Mitchell-Lama program). It also seems that the GDP was ignored when this decision was made. Instead, MP is all market-rate except for the one Sec 8 building - the beginning of RI development favoring in a lop-sided manner market-rate or luxury development vs a mix/ratio of affordable or moderate-income housing and market-rate.


Also, why was Starrett exempted from installing individual sub meters in each unit, as it said it would do in the filing? Was PSC ever apprised that the implementation of sub metering would not be exactly as described in its filing?


If there have been billing/calculation irregularities ongoing for over 20 years, resulting in overcharges, which could be proven, that might form the basis of a class action law suit.


Not giving tenants access to their sub meter is an ideal way for management to "adjust" readings in mgt's favor, or get away with various subtle and of course undetectable ways of overcharging (since the equipment is locked away in an office that only management has access to). Why did the PSC permit Starrett to not install individual sub meters on the premises of each apt? Did Starrett ever let PSC it wasn't going to install individual sub meters - and if so, what was the reason given?

CheshireKitty said...

For anyone interested, this fact sheet gives information on the Sec 8, Mitchell-Lama, and 236 housing programs. http://www.tenantsandneighbors.org/pdf/Mitchell-Lama%20Rental%20Housing.pdf

Mark Lyon said...

It appears Manhattan Park Management is working to improve the billing system. I haven't seen the new bills, but they just sent the following message. Hopefully this is a positive step toward more timely and transparent billing.


====

Effective May 1, 2013 we will be switching to a New Billing system. We expect this new system to facilitate Rent Payments and help eliminate any billing errors. We will also be offering payment options such as ACH and EFT (Direct Electronic Bank transfers).


Your New Monthly Rent Invoice will be arriving the last week of April 2013. Please note the New Remittance address for mailing payments with your New Account Number. We will no longer be using your OLD account number 555-xxx-xxx-xxxx .


If you are paying your Rent through an Electronic payment method (payments through your bank) please remember to include your New Account Number, to the New Remittance Address. This will help ensure your account receives credit for your payment in an efficient manner. This information will be found on your New Monthly Rent Invoice.


New Rent Payment address:
GRENADIER REALTY CORP.
G.P.O., PO BOX 3021
HICKSVILLE, NEW YORK 11802-3021


Please call our office if you should have any questions, or if there are any type of errors as we begin on this new system of issuing your monthly Rent invoice.


Thank you for your cooperation.
Manhattan Park Management

CheshireKitty said...

So they seem to have responded to your prodding, Mark - good going! Still, it would be nice if they had explained what is new about the new billing system other than the new account numbers and new remittance address, and offering direct payment options (ACH and EFT). They will be mailing the invoices to arrive by the last week of the month - which is a very good thing. But, other than that, what is new? There are still no sub meters in the apartments.. why the variability in electrical charges? Does Grenadier need to do more to improve energy efficiency at MP? And why should the electricity bill be considered part of the rent bill - doesn't that mean if a person can pay the rent but cannot afford the electricity bill, they can get evicted? This isn't right.

Mark Lyon said...

As you know, there are numerous issues yet to be addressed. Don't worry, this is just one step in the process - I'm not going to stop.

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Mark Lyon said...

The Public Utility Law Project just published a blog post titled "PSC Warns Landlords to Follow Submetering Orders Allowing Sale of Electric Service to Residential Tenants". http://pulpnetwork.blogspot.com/2013/04/psc-warns-landlords-to-follow.html

PULP has not be interested in helping to pursue the issues related to Manhattan Park submetering, but nevertheless is an important resource for information on submetering practices.

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Mark Lyon said...

I'm shocked.


This month, Manhattan Park made much of their announcement of a new billing system and new invoice format. I was certain that this heralded the introduction of invoices that actually reflected the items required by law for utility bills.


It took them too long to get changed over, so bills were delivered on May 2. They generously offered to waive any late fees this month.


The new bills are bigger - a full 8x11 sheet instead of the 1/3 page format of before. Somehow, though, they managed to actually put LESS utility information on these statements. It now just lists a utility charge and doesn't even attempt to show usage. It directs you to a Quadlogic statement... which wasn't included and hasn't arrived.


So the bill is due, for an arbitrary amount of money, and you might get a statement with the particulars at some point in the future.


Amazing.

deetelecare said...

While I've been as critical as anyone, I don't think the changes in the MP building makeup from 1980 to 1988 are pertinent. The development changed over that time, it was approved and it's not something we can do anything about.The estimating was done for approval of electric heat in the project, on the 1980 conditions and was not intended to project forward, for good or ill. Page 2 is a 1988 letter confirming the PSC approval. This was right before construction started.

Submeter access: the way I read it, the modules are in the apartments and send a signal indicating usage to the mini-computer which is in a secured area of the building which then calculates the charge. It does not say that tenants have access to a meter. A module (sending unit) is not a meter.

Using an inflation calculator (http://www.davemanuel.com/inflation-calculator.php) $6.50 per year is the 2013 equivalent of $1.46 for maintenance in 1980. There appears to be no admin charge.

Quadlogic statement--let's see if we get that in the following week. You did a very good thing in forcing the itemization and separate statement as required. Of course, we cannot confirm for ourselves that what they are reporting is correct. With other submetered apartment buildings, is that customary?

Another $/cents issue is here--and the big one-- is what MP is paying for kWh. We should have confirmation that it is it the actual Con Ed cost without markup. And what is preventing MP from getting a more competitive rate, like commercial buildings routinely do, or co-generating? In fact, every year they should be evaluating their power rates and looking to find the most competitive, lowest cost provider.

Mark Lyon said...

Did anyone else just receive their utility statements? Mine arrived in the email yesterday; it appears to have been sent on 5/6, based on the postmark.

This month, they show a rate of $0.1437 per kWh. Last month was $0.2184 per kWh. That's quite a difference. Usage last month was 699, this month 519. $166.32 vs $84.73.

Con Ed shows the EL8 market supply charge ( https://apps1.coned.com/csol/msc_cc.asp ) for 2/13-3/13 as $0.71086 / kWh and for 3/13-4/13 as $0.55166. While the supply charge is only a component of the rate, the dramatic variance isn't evident there.

Even if we look at SC1, the "rate cap" rate that would be charged if direct metered, we see the rate as $0.94274 and $0.77794 for the same period. Again, wild swing not evident.

YetAnotherRIer said...

The weather was warmer, demand for electricity dropped, prices decrease. Aren't electricity prices adjusted by projected seasonal demand? I have to check my statements from the previous years.

Mark Lyon said...

Yes, but the change in rates seem more dramatic than Con Ed's changes would seem to indicate.

YetAnotherRIer said...

23% vs. 35%. Sure, I do not know what market supply charge actually means but it doesn't seem to be that outrageously different.

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