Assemblymember Barrett’s Bill Would Reinstate Consumers’ Advocate on State Energy Planning Board

June 19, 2012

To ensure consumer interests are once again included in the state’s energy plans, Assemblymember Didi Barrett (D-Mid Hudson) announced the Assembly passed a bill she authored to amend the state energy law by including a person from the Utility Intervention Unit, part of the Consumer Protection Division within the Department of State, to serve on the state Energy Planning Board (A.10579).

The State Energy Planning Board is responsible for creating plans to meet future energy demands, while balancing all major aspects involved, including: economic development, climate change, environmental quality, health, safety and welfare of the public, transportation and consumer energy cost objectives. Currently, the board consists of members from a variety of state agencies representing all related interests, as well as one representative appointed by each the speaker of the Assembly, the president of the Senate and the governor. Unfortunately, an advocate for the consumer is lacking, Assemblymember Barrett noted.

“It goes without saying that our families need a voice in the state’s energy planning – they’re directly impacted,” said Assemblymember Barrett. “Restoring the Utility Intervention Unit’s representative on the planning board would ensure the interests of Mid-Hudson families are included in Energy Planning Board matters. It makes a big difference to have them included since they would be there on behalf of the consumer’s best interest.”

In 1994, the Consumer Protection Board had 31 staffers dedicated to utility intervention. There were also independent advocates like the Citizens’ Utility Board and the Public Utility Law Project. Since that time, however, while the industry has been deregulated creating a complicated and confusing marketplace, those important groups have been dissolved and de-funded, leaving the average citizen without a voice, Assemblymember Barrett said.

Today, the Utility Intervention Unit actively participates in initiatives concerning the availability, pricing and quality of electricity and natural gas service in the state.

“New York’s once robust network of state-funded and independent advocacy groups has unfortunately become a thing of the past,” Assemblymember Barrett said. “But, by reinstating this seat on the Energy Planning Board, we are making sure to include an advocate for the people – and it couldn’t come at a better time.”

Recently, energy planning has become a critical issue in the Mid-Hudson Valley. In the Town of Ghent, New York State Electric and Gas, which supplies most of the power in northern and eastern Columbia County, is attempting to install an 11-mile high voltage overhead power line. The power line would stretch through dozens of residential properties, as well as several working farms, a nursery, land owned by the Columbia County Land Conservancy and Omi International Arts Center, which includes housing for visiting artists, a public exhibition space, and The Fields Sculpture Park.

On May 25, New York State Electric and Gas submitted an application for review with the Public Service Commission (PSC). As part of the PSC’s Article VII process, the Utility Intervention Unit from the Consumer Protection Division within the Department of State would become involved in the proceedings, ensuring that consumers have a voice and opinion in the Article VII proceedings with the PSC.

“Over time, we’ve seen the public’s voice on important community issues diminished," Assemblymember Barrett said. “I have met with many constituents who are directly affected by this proposed high voltage power line which was introduced without any community conversation. Some folks first learned of it only from their neighbors. We need to take the necessary steps to ensure that the voices of consumers in our community – and communities like ours across the state – are heard.”