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Con Ed bills jumped about 20 percent overall this summer - enough to bust a budget, but not enough to get some help from the state. The average Con Ed residential customer owes $60.98 this month - about 15 percent higher than September 1999, company officials said yesterday.

Businesses that consume more than 10,000 kilowatt hours a month are getting socked with an average $1,945 bill - about 16 percent higher than last year.

Regulators with the state Public Service Commission had promised residential consumers wouldn't suffer more than a 30 percent average increase over last year for the months of June, July, August and September.

The commission would have figured out a way to reimburse customers for any amount over that, PSC Chairwoman Maureen Helmer pledged in July.

But cooler-than-expected temperatures kept rates from reaching that threshold - and kept electricity use down.

"Based on the numbers we have, the average increase was about 20 percent this summer," PSC spokesman David Flanagan said.

Con Ed's rates began climbing in May after the utility sold off its power plants and started buying electricity on the deregulated market.

Crazy market spikes drove rates through the roof - and there's no guarantee things are going to settle down soon.

"This pricing (structure) almost ensures volatility," Con Ed CEO Eugene McGrath told The Post yesterday.

Federal investigators are exploring whether the owners of power plants are using market-manipulating shenanigans to drive up electricity prices, including in New York. A report is due in November.

But while Con Ed customers and some elected officials have griped that electric rates might be up because of corporate greed, others maintain that part of the problem is low supply and high demand.

The New York Power Authority - a state agency that sells electricity to Con Ed and other utilities - decided last month to spend $370 million on 11 new tractor-trailer sized generators in the hope of increasing generating power while lowering prices.

The authority also says the new generators will help prevent electricity shortages in New York City.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), September 12, 2000

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