Residential electricity rates are typically comprised of two basic parts — a volumetric charge based on energy used and a monthly fixed charge, which is typically referred to as a customer charge. Customer charges are flat fees that every customer pays, regardless of the amount of electricity or gas used. Because utilities have a fixed revenue requirement, higher customer charges lead to lower volumetric charges, and vice versa.
Over the past several years, utilities across the country have pushed for higher customer charges, in part because they provide a guaranteed revenue stream. Acadia Center has developed materials showing that fixed charges for residential electric customers in most states typically range from $5 to $10 a month, but are much higher in New York, averaging close to $18. Central Hudson Gas and Electric’s current customer charge of $24 is the highest in New York and among the highest in the nation.
Why lower customer charges?
- High customer charges disproportionately impact low-income customers, who typically use lower than average amounts of electricity and who are often forced to spend significant amounts of their income on utility bills. While high customer charges might represent only a small fraction of a bill for higher-income consumers, these charges can represent a large portion of a low-income consumer’s bill, making energy costs proportionately greater for those on whom the burden is already greatest.
- High customer charges conflict with New York’s goals for a clean, modern, consumer-friendly electric system by decreasing incentives for customers to lower their electricity bills by investing in energy efficiency or distributed energy resources like solar power.
High customer charges don’t align with state goals
Importantly, high customer charges reduce the incentive for investment in energy efficiency. This is problematic as New York seeks to ramp up its efforts to improve statewide energy efficiency by announcing a plan to set a 2025 energy efficiency target by Earth Day. As Acadia Center has pointed out in its recently released EnergyVision 2030 Progress Report for New York, New York’s electric energy efficiency annual savings level is only 0.5%, compared to savings levels of 3.24% in leading states such as Massachusetts. As New York seeks to establish ambitious energy efficiency targets, it needs to set the right incentives to invest in these resources by ensuring that utilities reduce these charges.
Working toward rate relief
Things may be starting to change. On April 18, thanks in part to Acadia Center’s advocacy, Central Hudson Gas and Electric agreed to reduce its current electric and gas residential customer charge to $19.50 over three years in its ongoing rate proceeding, becoming the first New York utility to reduce its customer charge in more than a decade.
Acadia Center has set up a website with several other organizations at www.lowerfixedcharges.org to continue advocating for lowering customer charges to levels that provide rate relief to New York energy consumers and set New York on a path to meet its clean energy and energy efficiency goals.
Cullen Howe is Senior Attorney and New York Office Director. He works on energy efficiency, demand management, local energy resources, grid modernization, and climate change issues, with a focus on New York state policy.