Thursday, November 15, 2007

LIPA's smoke and mirrors

Are you outraged by your electric bill? I know I am.

My bill is effectively doubled by LIPA's "power supply charges" — which the utility used to call "fuel surcharges" before it decided on the new euphemism.

Our cost-per-kilowatt-hour is just about doubled by LIPA's power supply charges. No matter what LIPA calls it, it's a RATE INCREASE, plain and simple. Yet this rate increase has been imposed by LIPA without review and approval by the (so-called) Public Service Commission.

Newsday business reporter Mark Harrington has an excellent article in today's edition: LIPA overestimates cost of fuel, overcharges customers.

In 2006, LIPA over-collected these bogus fuel surcharges by $197 MILLION.

LIPA has been refunding the 2006 excess revenue in 2007. But at the same time, LIPA is continuing to over-collect fuel surcharges to the tune of another $118 MILLION as of September.

LIPA is intentionally collecting more in fuel surcharges than it needs as a hedge against the "volatile" energy market. The result is the near doubling of its "cash, cash equivalents and investments" at the end of its operating year, from $413 million at the end of 2004 to $710 million at the end of 2006.

And last year, Harrington reports, LIPA "voted itself the right to overcollect more than three times the amount it previously could to hold in reserve."

LIPA operates without sufficient oversight. With a complicit PSC, it raises our de facto rates, changes its tariff to increase allowable "reserves" and manages a huge slush fund collected from us ratepayers -- who are struggling to pay our electric bills. Even as LIPA is jacking up our rates and padding its bank accounts to protect us against "volatility" it is shutting off customers who can't afford to pay their LIPA bills. "At last count," Harrington writes, "217,105 residential and commercial customers -- roughly one in five -- were late making payments, and LIPA's practice of shutting off electricity for non-payers spiked last year."

Why do we sit back silently and allow this to continue? This is our money. LIPA rates are effectively a tax. There are few realistic options for most of us but to buy electricity from this monopoly. The PSC was created to regulate utility monopolies and protect the public from abuse. It isn't doing its job. What will it take to get people to stand up and say, "ENOUGH! We demand change!" We have a governor who prides himself on being a crusader for consumer rights. When will we see that brought to bear on the PSC and LIPA? LIPA ratepayers are being shafted. And LIPA is allowed to do whatever it wants with our money with very little oversight. Meanwhile, we just keep footing the bill without a peep.