Legislators Renew Call for Independent Statewide Utility Consumer Advocate After Bill Spikes Hit New Yorkers

The Department of Public Service Office of Consumer Services, which was cited as part of both veto memos for legislation to create a Utility Consumer Advocate in New York, has so far refused to advocate for consumers who try to file complaints about bill spikes from Con Edison

Bronx, NY – As reports of spiking energy bills from Con Edison continue to come in throughout New York, a group of legislators are renewing their push for the creation of a new, statewide Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate. A letter to the Governor asking to work together on strengthening New York State’s ability to directly advocate for consumers, was sent by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and State Senator Diane Savino, who are the two main sponsors of legislation to create such an office, as well as Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (Chair of the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions which has oversight of the Public Service Commission and utility companies) and State Senator Michael Gianaris.

Legislation to create such an office has been vetoed twice by the Governor’s Office, in 2019 and 2021, with both veto memos citing redundant or duplicative roles between the proposed Utility Consumer Advocate and the Department of Public Service’s role in consumer advocacy. However, consumer experiences with the Public Service Commission in response to the recent bill spikes from Con Edison have offered a different perspective.

In multiple responses to utility consumer complaints about Con Edison bill spikes, the Department of Public Service offered a “brief explanation” and directed consumers to assistance programs or deferred payment agreements. DPS did not appear to include any complaint number that would indicate that the consumer complaint is being registered, investigated, or resolved.

The vetoed legislation is being reintroduced in 2022, with legislators hopeful that the Governor’s Office will engage in a productive dialogue about how to address concerns about redundancy between the proposed Utility Consumer Advocate and existing offices such as the DPS Office of Consumer Services and the Department of State’s Utility Intervention Unit.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz said: “If one thing is clear after the debacle that utility consumers have experienced with Con Edison’s extreme bills, our state does not have sufficient representation of consumer voices in our oversight of utility companies. The reality is that the Department of Public Service is not intended to advocate for the sole interests of utility consumers — their job is to focus on the whole system, which by its nature means that they have to also represent the interests of utility companies. A new, independent Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate would provide this dedicated voice for consumers and it would be insulated from the political preferences of utility companies and their lobbyists. I am hopeful that Governor Hochul will continue her trend of collaborating with the Legislature and that we can finally reach a consensus on how to create and office that more than forty other states already have in place.”