State Considers Fine for Central Hudson

Report says employees warned of ‘major’ billing issues

New York’s utility regulator is considering a civil penalty against Central Hudson in the wake of a six-month investigation into an $88 million upgrade of the company’s billing system that caused widespread errors for customers. 

In a report released on Thursday (Dec. 15), the Public Service Commission (PSC) said Central Hudson’s quest to improve its customer information and billing system to “handle complex billing scenarios” instead caused nightmares for customers and apparent violations of commission orders and state laws. 

Some employees warned of “deficiencies in testing, training and readiness” for the system but the company pressed them to have it ready to go live on Sept. 1, 2021, according to the PSC, which is part of the state Department of Public Service. 

The problems, including programming errors, caused delays in issuing statements that lasted more than three months for some customers and overcharges that affected more than 8,000 customers, many of whom began filing complaints with the PSC and airing their frustrations on social media and to reporters. 

With the system erroneously blocking bills from being sent for prolonged periods, the company began sending out invoices based on estimates, in violation of approved procedures for using them instead of actual meter reads, said the report. 

Some of the billing errors were enormous. One customer who typically paid $500 a month had two bank accounts debited by Central Hudson for $12,107.52 and $16,212.74. The company eventually refunded the money. A customer with automatic billing had a bank account debited for $30,534.27, according to the PSC. 

In addition to a civil penalty, the state intends to investigate the propriety of Central Hudson’s expenditures for the system, the PSC said on Thursday. A day earlier J.D. Power rated Central Hudson next to last among midsize companies in its annual customer-satisfaction study of utility companies in the East Region. 

“Ensuring customer bills are accurate is the singular responsibility of the utility,” said Rory Christian, the PSC chair. “Given the scope and seriousness of the utility billing problems at Central Hudson, the department will now determine the level of commission action required to address these issues.”

Joe Jenkins, a representative for Central Hudson, said in January that the company had more than doubled its customer service staff and expanded operating hours to reduce the time account holders spent on hold as problems surged.

He said on Thursday that Central Hudson has “fully cooperated” with the PSC and will “continue to dedicate significant resources” to fixing problems. 

“Technical challenges associated with the implementation of this system have caused undue stress and confusion to some of our customers,” said Jenkins. “For that, we are deeply apologetic.”

Central Hudson has 30 days to show why the PSC should not penalize the company and investigate its spending on the systems upgrade. The PSC also said it ordered the company to create a plan for eliminating bimonthly billing estimates.

More than 4,300 people have submitted comments during the PSC’s investigation, with the agency posting additional ones as recently as Friday (Dec. 16). Jonathan Jacobson, whose state Assembly district includes Beacon, said on Thursday that his office has also been receiving complaints from angry customers.  

Legislation he introduced in May limits when utility companies can send bills based on estimated usage. “Central Hudson owes its affected customers more than an apology,” he said. “It owes them financial compensation for months of uncertainty and frustration.”

8 thoughts on “State Considers Fine for Central Hudson

  1. I hope that if the Public Service Commission does issue a fine, it will be shared with customers and not dumped into New York State coffers for politicians to waste on yet another noble cause of their choosing.

  2. Thank you for this reporting. I am one of many who filed a complaint with the Public Service Commission. I’m going to start doing my own meter readings and tracking my bills because they are clearly not accurate. I wonder if The Current would con-sider doing a brief how-to. I’m sure it would benefit many readers to know the ins and outs of how and when to read their meters and how to submit readings to Central Hudson. [via Instagram]

    • It’s not difficult but you can only submit within two days before Central Hudson’s scheduled reading (to find that date, check your statement or, after logging in to cenhud.com, see Account Details > Meter Information). If you have dial displays, read from left to right. If the hand falls between two numbers, use the lower number. Note that Central Hudson says it is not obligated to use any submitted reading to generate or re-issue a bill.

  3. I’ve never had a regular bill or reading from Central Hudson since we moved to the area three years ago. Every month is wildly different. The estimate months are always vastly off and Central Hudson refuses to do anything when I ask for it to be balanced. The months of no bills followed by sudden, massive bill have been difficult. [via Instagram]

  4. In November, CenHud emailed me about changes to their billing system. But when I logged in, what I discovered was that I haven’t been billed since June 2022, in spite of being on an auto-pay budget plan.

    I called, but after going through the lengthy “help” menu, I still had no answers.

    Another day, I talked to a person who was obviously reading from a script; she verified that I’ve had no bills since June. She explained it was due to 25,000 customers being “dumped” back into CenHud’s system when an alternate power company declared bankruptcy. “We’ve had to review each account by hand, and we won’t start billing again until all of them have cleared.”

    Really? If one register at a store doesn’t take credit cards, some customers can probably pay in cash, so that not everyone has to wait in line for the register to reboot.

    She also suggested I should make payments to my account to avoid a huge bill when the system works again. On my first try, the payment didn’t go through. On my second try, the entire website was down. The next day I finally got through with a payment (how many people will be so persistent?) and also unchecked the box that said “pay entire amount due” because what if it’s $2,000? No thanks.

    And what about the exorbitant “delivery fees” every month? I hope state regulators are looking at those carefully.

  5. Last year my bank, internet carrier, Central Hudson all went thru major changes and upgrades at the same time. Don’t they know that it’s driving me crazy? I lost count of the number of times I phoned them with questions and complaints. What I learned though is that this too shall pass. Slowly but surely the bugs started to be repaired. Central Hudson has a budget billing plan that works for me. Less stress and at the end of the year’s billing I wind up with a very nice credit to my account. Am leaning toward a new recliner.

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