June 11, 2015

Assembly Establishes Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate to Voice Ratepayer Concerns

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Consumer Affairs Committee Chair Jeffrey Dinowitz announced yesterday the passage of legislation that would create the New York State Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate (UCA) to represent consumers' utility interests at both the state and federal level and give a voice to residential utility ratepayers (A.180, Dinowitz).

"Utility consumers in New York State deserve an independent voice to represent their interests and concerns," said Heastie. "Between rising energy costs, oftentimes unhelpful customer service and a widening gap between prices and quality of service, utility companies have evaded accountability to the consumers they are meant to serve. Recent natural disasters further demonstrate the need for a proactive representative for consumers. Creating an Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate would give ratepayers a voice in the process, increasing transparency and accountability."

"New Yorkers have watched their utility bills skyrocket, and there has been little to no recourse for consumers," said Dinowitz. "New York is one of only a handful of states that have no independent Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate. An independent UCA would finally give ratepayers a strong representative at both state and federal levels to fight for their interests and address concerns. This is an important step in leveling the playing field between utility companies and consumers."

The legislation would create the New York State Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate to 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 UCA would be appointed by the governor, subject to the approval of the state Senate, to serve a six-year term.

The office of the UCA would have the authority to initiate, intervene and participate in any proceedings before the Public Service Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, state and local administrative and regulatory agencies, and state and federal courts in any matter or proceeding that may substantially affect the interests of residential utility customers.

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