Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie and Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee Chair Jeffrey Dinowitz today announced the passage of legislation to establish the Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate (UCA) to bolster the voices of residential utility ratepayers in all regulatory proceedings.
"Whether it's lowering utility rates or improving utility services, the interests of consumers are underrepresented in state and federal regulatory proceedings. This bill would change that dynamic and hold utilities accountable to the interests of the consumers they are obligated to serve," said Speaker Heastie. "The difficulties consumers experience following natural disasters reveal the glaring need for ratepayers to have a greater voice in order to improve transparency and accountability among utility companies."
"This legislation will help level the playing field between consumers and utilities," said Dinowitz. "The Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate will strengthen the ability of residential utility consumers to have their interests represented and their voices heard. For too long now, the needs of consumers have not been well served. The UCA will reverse this unfairness and act as a tenacious advocate, fighting for the concerns of ratepayers in all state and federal regulatory proceedings."
"New Yorkers regularly pay among the highest residential electric bills in the nation. Yet we remain the largest of just 10 states without an independent utility consumer advocate to push back when utility companies spend over $10 million a year in ratepayers' own money to push for rate increases," said to Beth Finkel, state director, AARP New York. "AARP commends Speaker Heastie, Assemblyman Dinowitz and the Assembly for passing this pro-consumer legislation - especially for retirees and those on fixed incomes who must devote a high portion of their income to energy bills. We urge the Senate and Governor to follow suit."
The UCA would be established by the bill (A.180-A; Dinowitz) to provide ratepayers with independent representation during state and federal regulatory proceedings involving utility companies that offer electric, natural gas, internet, cable television, telephone and wireless communication services.
To ensure the Utility Consumer Advocate is truly independent and an effective voice of utility consumers, the bill calls for the advocate to be appointed by the Governor to serve a six-year term, subject to the Senate's confirmation process. The measure would provide the advocate with several years of autonomy to independently and freely speak out on behalf of the state's consumers without the fear of being dismissed from the job because of his or her determinations.
Under the bill, the UCA would be authorized to take part 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 order to represent the interests of residential ratepayers.
Heastie, Dinowitz and the Assembly Majority believe the legislation will give the state's utility customers a much needed voice at the table when regulatory decisions are made, resulting in more affordable rates and better utility services. Drastic savings have been realized in states where such a utility consumer advocate exists. It is estimated that California's Division of Ratepayer Advocates saved consumers more than $4 billion in rate savings, and for every $1 spent on representing the interests of consumers the average rate payer saved $153 per year.