Bronx- Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx) announced today that he will once again make a major push to pass legislation, A.6239, which would create a new state consumer advocacy office named the State Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate. Mr. Dinowitz, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection, originally proposed this legislation earlier this year. The bill was approved by the State Assembly, but it has yet to be voted on by the State Senate.
In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene, and Tropical Storm Lee, consumers in New York have been left without a voice and real representation when it comes to utility services.
Currently more than 40 states and the District of Columbia have an independent state agency that represents the interests of residential utility customers. New York is one of few states, and by far the largest, without such an independent office.
The bill would create the State Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate to serve as an independent advocate and appear on behalf of New York consumers in state and federal regulatory proceedings, as well as judicial review proceedings concerning rates and conditions of public service utilities. Though New York currently has the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the Utility Intervention Unit (UIU), which is a division of the Department of State, the Utility Consumer Advocate would focus solely on consumers and their interests as related to utility services.
In past proceedings before the PSC, utility providers and large commercial and industrial customers have actively and vigorously represented their own interests; however, there is a stark lack of input from parties that represent consumers. The Utility Consumer Advocate would be appointed by the Governor, subject to Senate confirmation, and would serve a six-year term. He or she would exercise independent discretion in determining when to initiate and participate in proceedings that affect residential utility consumers and how to advocate for their interests.
In other states where such an office exists residential consumers have seen drastic savings in comparison to the actual amount of funding that goes to these offices. California’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates lobbied over 200 times on behalf of California consumers and saved them over $4 billion in rates saved and increases avoided; in fact, they estimate that for every $1 spent representing and advocating on behalf of California’s public utility customers, the average customer saved $153 per year.
“The creation of an appointed advocate with the powers allotted in this bill would give New York utility customers a voice at the table and save them a considerable amount of money when it comes to the utilities they use every day” Dinowitz said. “This bill will be a major step in bringing New York State to the front of the pack when it comes to consumer protections and making sure the State is working on consumers’ behalf. When the utility companies come with their hands out asking for a rate increase every customer in New York will know that there is someone at the table with the ability to question and review their proposals.”
The Bill is widely supported by consumer advocate groups representing various demographics around the State including AARP, New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), Public Utility Law Project of New York, Inc., and Consumers Union.