Assemblyman Dinowitz Calls on Governor Cuomo and State Senate to Include Utility Consumer Advocate in NYS Budget

March 17, 2016

Albany, NY – Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D- Bronx) has released a statement calling for Governor Cuomo and the State Senate to include the independent Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate (UCA) in their 2016-17 budgets. In addition to Assemblyman Dinowitz’s own legislation creating the office of the UCA (A.180), this year’s Assembly budget proposal includes $500,000 to create the office, in addition to $1 million for intervener funding for consumer advocacy in utility rate cases before the Public Service Commission.

New York’s utility consumers are currently represented by the Public Service Commission and the Utility Intervention Unit; however, neither entity is independent nor has a responsibility to advocate solely on behalf of ratepayers. An independent Utility Consumer Advocate would protect consumers by ensure ratepayers are properly represented in regulatory proceedings at both the state and federal level.

“When you look at the astounding lack of representation that New York’s utility consumers have during rate hike proceedings it is easy to see how New Yorkers pay the highest utility costs in the continental United States. That is why I have authored a bill creating the independent Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate (A.180),” said Assemblyman Dinowitz. “The UCA would help level the playing field between powerful utility providers and New York families to ensure transparency and accountability at a time when New Yorkers pay some of the highest utility rates in the nation.”

Under Assemblyman Dinowitz’s legislation and the Assembly’s budget measure, the office of the UCA would be required to submit an annual report to the governor and the Legislature – which would be made available to the public – containing information regarding proceedings the UCA participated in and the outcomes of those proceedings. Additionally, the report would include estimated savings to residential utility consumers which resulted from intervention by the UCA, as well as policy recommendations and changes to the law that will benefit consumers. In states where such offices exist, residential consumers have seen drastic savings on their utility costs in comparison to the amount of funding these offices require in order to operate. The UCA would be appointed by the governor, subject to Senate confirmation and serve a term of six years. Currently, 40 states and the District of Columbia have some sort of independent consumer advocate office. New York is the largest state without any such office by far.

“New York is one of the only states without an independent Utility Consumer Advocate, and New Yorkers across the state are paying the price for it,” said Assemblyman Dinowitz. “Just look at the most recent rate hike proposed by Con Edison that would increase the average electricity customer’s bill by 4.5%, and the average gas customer’s bill by 8.2%. If Con Ed gets their way, the average New York City residential electric customer would see a bill increase of $4.11 a month, and the average residential customer using natural gas for heating would see an average monthly increase of $10.99. How is a senior on a fixed income supposed to pay an additional 4.5% a month for electricity, or 8.2% for gas? How is a minimum wage worker making $9.00 an hour supposed to pay an extra $10.99 a month in utilities? New Yorkers deserve a voice and I am proud the Assembly was able to approve this budget measure, I strongly urge the Senate and the Governor to do the same.”