Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Consumer Affairs Committee Chair Jeffrey Dinowitz and Energy Committee Chair Amy Paulin today announced the Assembly SFY 2015-16 Budget calls for the creation of the State Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate to protect the interests of consumers during residential utility proceedings before the state and federal government.
"The combination of the highest utility rates in the nation and the unreasonable amount of time it has taken to restore service following several natural disasters underscores the lackadaisical regard utilities have shown towards the needs and concerns of ratepayers," said Heastie. "By creating the State Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate, we create an equal playing field between utilities and their customers and establish a heightened awareness and respect for consumer interests that will lead to lower utility rates and better service."
"For too long, our residents have paid the price for being one of the few states in the union without an independent Utility Consumer Advocate," said Dinowitz "This imperious lack of concern by the utilities for the impact their rates have on their customers cannot continue. With this budget, we put the voices of consumers on equal footing with those of the utilities, establishing once and for all that the interests of ratepayers can no longer be ignored."
"I commend my Assembly colleagues for feeling so strongly about the benefits and protections New Yorkers would gain with a Utility Consumer Advocate Office that we've included it in the Assembly's SFY 2015-16 Budget," said Paulin. "Over the years, the voices of consumers have been alarmingly diminished. Currently, when any major energy regulatory decisions are made, all the stakeholders are at the table but one….the consumer. A State Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate changes this deplorable lack of representation and ensures the voices of consumers will be heard."
Joining Speaker Heastie, Dinowitz, and Paulin for the creation of the State Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate are Assembly committee chairs Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, Governmental Operations; James F. Brennan, Corporations, Authorities and Commissions; and Steven Cymbrowitz, Aging.
"Thankfully, the Assembly budget designates an official office to champion protections for utility consumers and ends this awful inequity that ratepayers have been helpless to prevent for many decades," said Peoples-Stokes.
"The absence of an advocate to consider the best interests of consumers has resulted in higher utility rates and poor services," said James F. Brennan. "The Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate will ensure that the interests of consumers are protected."
"There has been too much emphasis on the financial interests of the utilities and not enough attention is paid to the needs and economic realities of the ratepayers," said Cymbrowitz. "Under the current system, ratepayers are at a significant disadvantage. I applaud the Speaker for addressing this unfairness and his commitment to strengthening the voice of consumers through the State Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate."
Under the Assembly budget, the State Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate would be led by a gubernatorial appointee, subject to the Senate's approval, who would serve a six year term. It would represent utility consumers before all state and federal regulatory proceedings involving utility companies that offer electric, wireless telecommunication, cable television or natural gas services.
In addition, the State Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate would be required to provide the governor and legislature with an annual report, which would be available to the public, about the outcomes of the proceedings the office participated in during that year. The report also would account for the estimated savings to residential utility customers that are attributable to the office's intervention and provide recommendations for any policy changes the office determines to be necessary.