Legislators to State PSC: Reject Devastating Suez Rate Hike

Joint Proposal Would Cover Four-Year Period & Cumulatively Hike Rockland Ratepayer Bills By Nearly 40 Percent By 2024 – A Current $100 Per Month Bill Would Increase to $139.20 Per Month By 2024

PRESS RELEASE Rockland County Legislators Alden Wolfe and Harriet Cornell are asking the Acting State Public Service Commission Secretary to reject a proposal by Suez Water New York that would have devastating consequences on the company’s Rockland County ratepayers.

“The proposal fails on multiple levels and would hit Suez’s Rockland customers with devasting increases,” Legislature Chairman Wolfe said. “It cannot be approved in its current form and I urge Acting PSC Secretary Michelle L. Phillips to reject it and to listen to the concerns being voiced by the many, many people who have been fighting for a smarter water service.”

Suez Water New York has been pursuing a rate hike for about a year. The company is also seeking to merge Suez Water Westchester and upstate Suez Water Owego-Nichols into Suez Water New York. A state evidentiary hearing on the combined cases is scheduled to start Wednesday, March 11.

“According to what Suez is proposing, the merger will ‘spread out’ the cost burden of significant upgrades and capital investment for the smaller service areas onto a ‘larger customer base,’ which translates to Rockland County customers once again picking up the tab for service that does not benefit them,” Legislator Wolfe said.

Suez Water New York is seeking a levelized rate increase of 10 percent in year one; 9.1 percent in year two; 8.3 percent in year three; and 7.1 percent in year four. A current $100 per month water bill would increase to $139.20 per month in year four under the company’s requested rate hike.

Suez and staff of the state Department of Public Service have worked out a settlement known as a Joint Proposal. The state Public Service Commission, whose members regulate utilities, set rates and ensure adequate service is being providing, will eventually rule on the Joint Proposal and can require changes, including rejecting the plan.

Legislator Cornell, who chairs the Legislature’s Environmental Committee, as well as the Rockland County Task Force on Water Resources Management, said the Joint Proposal was not in the best interest of the public. She said it proposes a burdensome rate increase, including the lack of affordability for more vulnerable residents. She pointed out that the plan’s excessively long term – four years – would undermine transparency and consumer protection.

Legislator Cornell said that the Joint Proposal also falls short when it comes to creating and implementing meaningful water conservation. She said the company only sought to conserve 1 million gallons of water per day when it filed a rate hike request with the state in 2017 – even though significantly more water savings were possible. Further, she said, the effectiveness of its 2017 conservation plan is questionable, as Suez notes in its own documents.

“A failure of the Conservation Plan would lead Rockland County right back to the extraordinary additional expenses and harmful impacts of needing additional supply,” Legislator Cornell said. “Rockland ratepayers already have the unhappy distinction of paying among the highest rates in New York State, which would only be exacerbated by the proposed rate hike.”

Suez fails to include summer peak water usage in its current proposed conservation plan, which is part of its rate hike proposal, even though such usage, especially when combined with drought, can present drinking water supply challenges.

Legislator Cornell said Suez cannot focus on indoor water-use conservation measures alone. Instead, the company should at least be required to develop and implement a program of irrigation audits for customers with in-ground systems and very high summer usage; to work with the Rockland County Health Department to develop a drought water bill rate, which would kick in with the second level of declared drought; and to coordinate drought messages with the County in order to reach as many water users as possible leading into and during a declared drought.

The Water Task Force chaired by Legislator Cornell recently completed a Comprehensive Water Conservation and Implementation Plan that has been adopted by the Rockland County Legislature and is supported by the County Executive. It provides 20 opportunities for conserving water, with near-term and long-term actions and a recommendation for ongoing plan updates every five years. The options cover education and public awareness; incentives, both monetary and non-monetary; and regulations such as legislation, ordinances and requirements.

The plan evolved from a successful local effort to halt an unnecessary, energy-intensive and costly water treatment plant proposed by Suez that would have drawn water from the Hudson River. Rockland ratepayers continue to reimburse the company for money it spent in pursuit of the white elephant of a project.

“Thousands of residents and businesses did not join together to successfully fight Suez’s unnecessary, energy-intensive and costly water treatment plant to just sit back and watch the company continue to fail to help Rockland conserve water – both indoors and out,” Legislator Cornell said. “The proposal is absolutely not in the public interest, and I call upon the Commissioners to recognize these facts.”