Today’s news:

Con Ed rate hike proposed

Western Queens elected officials criticized the state Public Service Commission after two of the agency’s administrative law judges recommended a one−year rate hike totaling $632 million for Con Edison.

The officials, who have been critical of the utility for several years following its handling of the 10−day western Queens blackout in 2006, which left 174,000 residents without power, said Con Ed already charges high rates and that the utility should not be requesting more money during a period of national economic downturn.

“At a time when every other company is forced to do more with less, this inefficient monopoly wants to charge more to do less,” City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D−Astoria) said. “This charade of Con Edison requesting an unrealistically huge increase and being granted something less by the Public Service Commission has to end. We already pay the highest electrical rates in the continental United States. Enough is enough.”

A PSC spokeswoman said a decision would be made on the proposal in April and that public hearings would be held on the rate hike.

Last fall, the utility had proposed an $819 million rate hike for 2009 that would raise the bills of customers paying an average $78.90 per month by 7.8 percent, or $6.18, and increase bills for businesses paying an average $2,338 by 5.1 percent, or $120. Con Ed had also proposed hiking rates by 4.2 percent in 2010 and 3.7 percent in 2011.

In a statement, Con Ed said, “We recognize the difficulties customers face with rising energy costs. We do our part to hold down delivery charges.”

Last week, two PSC administrative law judges recommended that the utility should be granted a one−year increase of $632 million for 2009. On its Web site, the PSC called for public comment on the rate hike.

The utility had raised its rates in April after the PSC approved a $425 million hike.

“As long as the PSC aids and abets Con Edison’s wicked game of perpetual rate hikes, the people of New York will continue to suffer from higher rates and substandard service,” said state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D−Astoria). “It’s time to put the ‘public’ back in the Public Service Commission.”

Councilman Eric Gioia (D−Sunnyside) said he thought it was outrageous that Con Ed would be granted a rate hike as borough residents struggle to pay increasing food, rent and transit costs.

“For New Yorkers who are already struggling to make ends meet in tough economic times this winter, another rate increase could be potentially devastating,” he said. “With so many families close to foreclosure, I fear another Con Ed rate increase will cause people to lose their homes.”

Gioia said Con Ed customers are charged 18.07 cents per kilowatt hour, while the national average charge is 11.8 cents per kilowatt hour.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at nduke@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.

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