By Alberto Gillman
Software difficulties, inaccurate billing , excessive charges, inadequate training and staffing and lack of readiness were identified in a recently released investigative report on December 15 by the New York State Department of Public Service [DPS] following several months of investigations into Central Hudson Gas and Electric.
Joseph Jenkins, Associate Director, Media Relations for Central Hudson shared via email the following statement made by Central Hudson: “Over the last several months, Central Hudson has fully cooperated with our regulators at the Public Service Commission as they investigated our implementation of a new customer information system. Technical challenges associated with the implementation of this system have caused undue stress and confusion to some of our customers. For that, we are deeply apologetic. As part of the regulatory process, Central Hudson is provided the opportunity to respond to the PSC’s [Public Service Commission] findings through an Order to Show Cause. We will continue to be open and transparent with our regulators as we move through this process. Central Hudson will continue to dedicate significant resources toward resolving any lingering issues with the billing system. We will always be committed to finding ways to improve the customer experience.”
Last year on September 1, 2021, Central Hudson had upgraded its billing system for its customers and the purpose of this new system would be its ability to handle complex billing scenarios for Central Hudson’s customers. According to the report, in relation to energy supply provided, various energy supply options involve non-traditional forms of billing, also known as complex billing, that require additional measures prior to customer billing. Several various options identified included Community Distributed Generation [CDG]4, purchased from an Energy Supply Company [ESCO], customer generated electricity or net-metering and utility supplied energy commodity.
In the report, Overland Consulting had conducted a management and operations audit in June 2017 and recommended that Central Hudson upgrade to a new customer information system [CIS] to address these complex billing needs. The Public Service Commission approved funding for the project in June 2018 and a request for proposal [RFP] was sent out by Central Hudson to which Ernst & Young, a consulting firm, submitted a proposal known as Project Phoenix, which recognized the company’s need to address the billing scenarios. Central Hudson awarded Ernst & Young the contract for the system in January 2020. This new system was identified early on in the report at a cost of over $88 million.
However, upon launch of the new system, excessive bill amounts or delayed bills were brought to the attention of elected officials and the DPS. Prior to the launch day, the report stated the company was warned by its employees of certain deficiencies with additional testimonies included about lack of preparedness but were told to move forward with the implementation of the program. Additional software and programming errors following launch day led to over 8,050 customer overcharges, delayed bills and customers of Central Hudson were identified to have had several hundred to several thousand dollars withdrawn from their bank accounts by Central Hudson. Central Hudson did address these issues by sending refund checks but during the course of September 2021 to June 2022, over $16,000,000 from 30,000 different customers was automatically withdrawn from their accounts to cover multiple bill charges. A CIS Modernization Plan was submitted to the PSC on January 6, 2020 but now almost three years later and despite the efforts of employees trying to resolve issues, the project was identified as a failure in the report.