PSC approves plan to avoid water rate shock in Lynbrook

Mark Harrington for Newsday

February 06, 2020

Originally published in Newsday on February 06, 2020.

New York American Water customers in its Lynbrook district have avoided the shock of a 27 percent rate increase in April after the Public Service Commission Thursday approved a plan to defer the larger increase and to hike rates 6 percent, or $2.01 a month.

Customers in the district faced the increase after the PSC last year approved a plan to defer a 2019 rate hike until this year — the last year of New York American Water’s four-year rate increase plan. Had the plan not been approved, the company would have begun collecting for two years of increases, or more than $21 million, from its Lynbrook-area customers on April 1. The move “postpones” collection of certain surcharges until a future period as the commission reviews the matter against the backdrop of a pending acquisition, the PSC said.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), who pushed for the move, said while the burden on Lynbrook residents "could have been worse, these rate hikes are still out of control, and this company needs to be held accountable."

“People deserve access to clean water and fair rates and I won’t let up until rates are rolled back to a reasonable level," Kaminsky said. 

In a statement Thursday, the PSC said the move still lets New York American Water, which is being sold to Liberty Utilities for $608 million, to start “critical” infrastructure and new technology investments, including the rollout of smart meters.

“This decision will provide the public and the commission the opportunity to consider and act on items that will impact rates on a more holistic basis as part of its review of the company’s pending acquisition,” the PSC said in a statement.

But utility watchdog David Denenberg, co-director of Long Island Clean Air, Water & Soil, took issue with the PSC's approval. He had earlier called for public hearings to gauge public opinion on the rate plan. 

"Without hearings, the PSC once again is doing New York American Water's bidding and deceiving the public," Denenberg said.

Denenberg said hearings would have shown that the water company is "simply securing even higher rate increases spread over three years so that it can realize over $400 million in profit on its sale to Liberty. Kicking the can down the road is not the answer for beleaguered ratepayers."

Other service areas will also see previously approved increases. Merrick-region customers using 4,000 gallons will see bills increase by 8.3 percent, or $2.10 a month. In the Sea Cliff area, bills will go up 6.2 percent, or $2.39 a month.

New York American Water president Lynda DiMenna said the investments approved by the PSC will let the company "better serve its customers, especially through AMI smart meters which will provide near real-time water usage data and empower customers to make smart water choices as they see fit for their household."

She noted the company "voluntarily asked [the PSC] to moderate the rate increase for customers," and added the company will review the PSC order and provide advance notice to customers of April 2020 rates.