2014

New York Lawmakers, AARP & Consumer Groups Aim to Change State Utility Game

Groups Press for New Law to Level Playing Field for Consumers in Rate Hike Cases - Create Utility "Watchdog" Office

ALBANY, N.Y., April 16, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- New Yorkers get hit with some of the highest utility bills in the nation,  and according to AARP, this is exactly why the utility game needs to change in the Empire State. Today, a group of New York lawmakers, AARP New York, and a broad coalition of consumer groups are proposing legislation to do just that, helping to level the playing field for consumers when utility companies press for rate hikes.   

At the State Capitol, the groups joined to announce legislation that would change the utility game in the Empire State, establishing an independent utility consumer advocate office. The new office would represent the interests of New York consumers when utility companies press for rate hikes or other complex regulatory issues, such as those in telecommunications cases. New York is one of only a handful of states lacking such an office. 

The legislation, Assembly Bill 6239, sponsored by Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz (D-Riverdale) and Senate Bill 4550, sponsored by Senator Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), would give New York residential consumers a stronger voice in rate hike proceedings and other regulatory matters, level the playing field with utility companies, and work to save consumers money on their utility bills. A key component of the new office is the ability to appeal Public Service Commission decisions in court. 

"The creation of an appointed advocate with the powers allotted in this bill would give New York utility customers a voice at the table and save them a considerable amount of money when it comes to the utilities they use every day," said Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, D-Riverdale.

"This bill will be a major step in bringing New York State to the front of the pack when it comes to consumer protections and making sure the State is working on consumers' behalf," said Dinowitz. "When the utility companies come with their hands out asking for a rate increase every customer in New York will know that there is someone at the table with the ability to question and review their proposals."

"As we come to grips with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, it is apparent the need for residential utility ratepayers to have an effective voice as potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in rate hikes and the overall accountability of utilities are considered by the Public Service Commission now and in the future," said Senator Diane Savino. "Consumers need a constant voice at the table when decisions are made that affect many aspects of their daily life, how much they pay for their utility service and how reliable that service will be." 

Across the nation, 40 states have established utility consumer advocate offices, saving consumers hundreds of millions of dollars on their utility bills a year.

"Utility companies have a lot of resources to press through rate hikes; consumers don't. Older New Yorkers, most living on fixed incomes, are the hardest hit by utility bill increases – leaving many to choose between filling a prescription and turning up the thermostat or air-conditioning. Clearly, the utility game has got to change," said Beth Finkel, State Director for AARP in New York. "On behalf of our 2.3 million AARP members across the state, we thank Assemblyman Dinowitz and Senator Savino for their dedication to giving consumers a stronger voice to counter the powerful utility industry in rate hike cases and to level the playing field for all New York consumers."

"New Yorkers pay some of the highest energy prices in the country, and they deserve a much stronger voice in utility rate hearings," said Chuck Bell, Programs Director of Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports. "We commend Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz and Senator Diane Savino for their proposed bill to create an Independent Utility Consumer Advocate. The Utility Consumer Advocate would be appointed to a six-year term by the governor and work to advance the public interest in fair rates and consumer protections for energy, cable, telephone and water utilities."

"The bill is an important first step to reform the state utility consumer advocate function which has languished in recent decades," said Gerald Norlander, Executive Director of the Public Utility Law Project. "Unlike most other states, New York lacks an independent state office with adequate resources to represent residential utility customers. The former Consumer Protection Board's utility consumer advocacy function was replaced at the Department of State by a unit with less statutory scope and no ability to question decisions of utilities and their regulators in court."

"New Yorkers, who have been hammered by high utility costs and unreliable utility service, desperately need an independent watchdog that has the legal authority to bark, and when necessary bite, to protect their interests," said Russ Haven, Legislative Counsel with New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). "Assemblymember Dinowitz's and Senator Savino's bill would create an independent utility advocacy unit that will protect residential consumers, result in a more efficient, competitive utility marketplace, and ultimately benefit businesses. This will make New York a more affordable place to live and do business."

Follow us on Twitter:  @AARPNY and Facebook: AARP New York

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with a membership that helps people 50+ have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole.  AARP does not endorse candidates for public office or make contributions to either political campaigns or candidates.  We produce AARP The Magazine, the definitive voice for 50+ Americans and the world's largest-circulation magazine with over 35.1 million readers; AARP Bulletin, the go-to news source for AARP's millions of members and Americans 50+; AARP VIVA, the only bilingual U.S. publication dedicated exclusively to the 50+ Hispanic community; and our website, AARP.org.  AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity that provides security, protection, and empowerment to older persons in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and sponsors.  We have staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

SOURCE AARP New York State



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