May 20, 2014

Assembly Establishes Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate to Provide Ratepayers a Voice in Utility Actions

Addressing the concerns of thousands of utility ratepayers in New York State, Speaker Sheldon Silver, Consumer Affairs Committee Chair Jeffrey Dinowitz and Energy Committee Chair Amy Paulin today announced the passage of legislation that would create the New York State Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate (A.6239-B, Dinowitz). The office would represent consumers' interests in residential utility matters at the state and federal level.

"For too, long consumers have been forced to deal with abysmal representation of their concerns regarding their utility service and rates, while utility companies have enjoyed an astonishing lack of accountability to the people they are supposed to be serving," Silver said. "As a result consumers are burdened with electric bills that are higher than almost every other state. In the wake of several natural disasters, the gaps between service, quality and customer representation have only been highlighted. With the creation of an independent Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate, this discrepancy ends today."

"New York is currently one of the few states, and by far the largest, without an independent Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate, and it shows," Dinowitz said. "With the prevalence of unreasonably high utility rates, poor customer service and unfair regulatory actions, it is long past time that we give New York's consumers a voice in the rate-making process. An Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate will put rate-payers and rate-makers on an equal playing field, which will ultimately result in more realistic utility rates and improved quality of service."

"An independent state Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate is much-needed and long overdue," Paulin said. "Energy costs in New York have skyrocketed and New Yorkers have had little say in the matter. This is unacceptable. Consumers deserve a strong, pro-active voice at both the state and the federal level that will advocate for their needs and address their concerns throughout the utility rate-making process. The creation of this office will go a long way in providing utility customers with savings on their energy bills, while at the same time providing peace of mind."

The Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate would provide residential utility consumers with an independent representative during state and federal regulatory proceedings involving utility companies that offer electric, natural gas, internet, cable television, telephone and wireless communication services. The measure would require the Utility Consumer Advocate to be appointed to a six year term by the governor, subject to the approval of the state Senate.

The legislation would also require an annual report from the Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate to the governor and legislature which would be made available to the public and would include information on all proceedings and the outcomes of all of these proceedings that the office participated in throughout the year. The report would also be required to include the estimated savings to residential utility customers that resulted from intervention by the office, and any policy recommendations and suggested statutory amendments that the office would deem necessary.