West Nyack Seniors’ Club Discusses Promises and Pitfalls of Alternate Energy Companies

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

West Nyack – The West Nyack Seniors’ Club hosted a brief discussion on the opportunities and risks of using small energy companies February 11 at St. Francis of Assissi Church of West Nyack, raising questions on the fair treatment of seniors by energy companies.

Club member Bill Kemble brought up the issue in a previous meeting and related his personal experiences and those other seniors who say they have been subject to unnecessarily high fees over a period extending back several years.

“We have people here paying 94 cents for gas when Orange & Rockland is only at 62 cents, and [alternate energy providers] say they can charge whatever they want as long as they’re not on a fixed rate,” Kemble said.

Kemble explained that he and others feel the companies to be taking advantage of seniors who cannot read fine print and do not have the means to fight high prices. Often times, the only recourse is to issue a complaint with the Public Service Commission, which has the power to penalize providers for unethical behavior.

Alternate energy contracts will often limit the length of the agreements to terms, after which service rates may jump. In addition, pricing for companies such as Direct Energy are contractually determined by factors like market conditions, prevailing gas prices, acquisition costs, and other costs which are skewed in favor of energy providers.

Still, savings are possible through deals advertised by providers. Unlike Orange & Rockland, backing out of a contract may carry no penalty, allowing customers to easily shop around for companies with the best deals.

Customers may also be eligible for county tax breaks, owing to reduced use of Orange & Rockland and concomitant reductions in the county’s new four percent residential energy tax. The reduction, which may amount to up to sixty percent in savings, stems from the avoidance of Orange & Rockland’s tax-laden delivery fee.

The ability to reduce costs on energy this dramatically is an asset to seniors, given the longstanding troubles many have with affordable power. According to a Journal News report in September, Rockland County seniors have been so burdened by heating costs that they were postponing family visits and cutting food expenses.

Legislator Ed Day, who Kemble sought out to address mounting concerns over energy costs, explained his own positive experiences with Direct Energy, one of 63 alternate providers. Day explained that while good deals are possible, business with alternate providers is optional and require careful assessment.

“There are savings that can be had here and I don’t want to scare you away from that, but if you’re going to opt into doing this alternate supply thing, I emphasize that you do not have to do that,” Day said. “You can just go on your merry way, pay your Orange & Rockland bill, and not pretend you’re in Vegas.”