Schumer demanding investigation into energy charges

PLATTSBURGH, NEW YORK - U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is demanding an investigation into what he calls an “energy-trading scam.”

The so-called scam has significantly affected North Country municipal utilities, who have been hit with high charges since January.

“New York State’s energy consumers got ripped off by rogue energy traders who are employing deceptive practices, and it must stop immediately,” Schumer said in a statement.

“From what I know, it wasn’t just a dollar here and a dollar there; these folks may have fleeced New Yorkers out of a quarter of a billion dollars.”

Schumer is calling on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to investigate the energy-trading practices.

“FERC must immediately investigate the market traders’ practices and take swift action to nip this problem in the bud,” he said.

The problem began to surface in January when one or more electricity-market participants began to schedule circuitous routes for transmission of electricity between states, according to the Schumer release.

Direct transactions between two points — principally from New York to either Pennsylvania or New Jersey — were scheduled to be “sent” on a roundabout course that purportedly would travel around Lake Erie, transporting power through Ontario, Canada, Michigan and Ohio and then back to the intended destination in Pennsylvania or New Jersey.

Schumer contends that the practice of scheduling power on circuitous routes around Lake Erie was unnecessary and costly to New York and its consumers.

The economic motive for this practice appears to be to avoid fees associated with sending power over congested direct lines between New York and New Jersey, for which there is a more costly transaction fee.

But even though the power was scheduled to be sent on that roundabout route, the physical properties of electricity dictate that it travel principally on the shortest path between two points, Schumer said, meaning it still traversed the congested lines in New York that the traders were trying to evade.

While the New York Independent System Operator has yet to determine the exact costs of these trading practices, some estimate that increased congestion and “uplift” fees have cost state consumers as much as $125 million in April and May of this year alone and as much as $240 to $290 million overall, Schumer said.

The City of Plattsburgh has been forced to pay Independent System Operator charges of more than $1 million this year, prompting anger from Mayor Donald Kasprzak, who called for an investigation in March.

“I am pleased to see that Senator Schumer has heard our concerns in the North Country and is pursuing this fleecing of ratepayers,” Kasprzak said.

The city has used its Muncipal Lighting Department reserve fund to absorb some of the charges but has had to pass on the rest to ratepayers.

Customers in Rouses Point, Lake Placid and Tupper Lake have also been hurt by the charges.

“This is a serious problem across the country and it is further evidence that we need to reform our energy policies,” Kasprzak said.


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