Fed-up Long Islanders Protest at LIPA HQ, Demand Voice on Proposed Rate Hikes

As Potential Increase to Already Sky-High Rates Looms, LI AARP Members Push Their State Senators for Independent Watchdog

May 08, 2014, 15:24 ET from AARP New York State

UNIONDALE, N.Y., May 8, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- After a brutal winter that saw Long Islanders' utility bills soar, more rate hikes on the horizon coupled with PSEG scoring its lowest-ever customer satisfaction rating level proved enough for Long Islanders. Today a group of fed up consumers gathered outside the Long Island Power Authority's (LIPA) headquarters to demand change in the form of an independent utility watchdog in New York, giving them a voice when LIPA decides on future rate increases – including a potential hike power provider PSEG is expected to push for next year.

Three dozen AARP members called on the Island's state senators to join the state Assembly and the Senate's Independent Democratic Conference in supporting an independent utility consumer advocate with the power to go to court to challenge unfair rate increases (S4550B/A6239B). After stating their case outside LIPA headquarters, the AARP volunteers then fanned out to visit the district offices of their state senators and make the case to their elected representatives in person.

"The people inside this building will decide whether our utility rates go up and by how much, but we the consumers don't have a voice in there - we don't have representation," Associate New York State Director for AARP on Long Island Will Stoner said while standing outside LIPA's Uniondale headquarters.

New Yorkers pay the highest average residential electric rates in the continental United States, and Long Islander pay among the highest rates in the state – nearly twice the national average according to the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. New York is one of only a handful of states, and by far the largest, without an independent advocate for its utility consumers. AARP says that's no coincidence.

"Utility companies spend our money to make sure they have a voice, and a powerful one at that. It's time to level the playing field. Most other states have independent advocates, and they save their residents millions of dollars," added Stoner.  "That's what we need here on Long Island. We're calling on our Long Island senators to give us a fighting chance by giving us a seat at the table when LIPA decides on rate hikes." 

AARP recently issued a report showing New York utility companies spend more than $10 million a year to press for rate increases – then pass those expenses on to the very customers whose rates they're trying to raise - including more than $1.3 million to Long Islanders from 2009 through 2012.

"As ratepayers we're actually paying for the power companies to hire attorneys and professionals to do their research and give us a rate hike," said AARP volunteer Jack Kott of Great Neck, a retired teacher and business owner. "We have no representation. I was really upset about that. I expect my state senator to give me a voice to stand up for Long Island ratepayers. It's not rocket science. It's common sense."

Neighboring Connecticut's independent utility consumer advocate reported reducing rates by $730 million in 2012 at a cost of $3 million – a 243-1 return on investment.

"We need an independent advocate to oversee what PSEG is doing," said AARP volunteer Marilyn Stern of West Islip, who's on a fixed income and keeps a close eye on her utility costs. "My bill has gone up $100 since January. I'm looking to my state senator to step up and look out for us. We can't afford these kinds of increases."

A 2013 AARP survey found three quarters of Long Islanders support an independent utility consumer advocate, while 69% don't think their elected officials are doing enough to fight rising energy costs.

With the new rating, PSEG's customer satisfaction now scores second worst among all major utility companies nationally. The company has passed on seven energy cost increases in the last eight months, which AARP says underscores the need for a strong voice to fight for residential ratepayers on that part of their utility bills regulators can control: the distribution portion.

AARP argues the need is urgent, with PSEG expected to file for a distribution rate increase next year.

The State Assembly could pass the utility consumer advocate bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx) and carried in the Senate by Senator Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), as early as next week.

The Moreland Commission on Utility Storm Preparation and Response recommended an independent utility consumer advocate to represent residential ratepayers (pgs 44-46).

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SOURCE AARP New York State