No savings for you! New York consumer advocate plan faces uphill fight


A lot is changing in how New Yorkers buy electricity, gas and communications service. About the only thing staying the same is that consumers have little say in decisions by the state Public Service Commission. Plans for a New York consumer advocate again face an uphill battle in the state Legislature.

We consumers are in a tough spot:

Some state legislators want to give consumers a place at the table when utility issues are decided. A bill passed in the Assembly by a 119-24 vote on June 10 would establish a state utility advocate office. The bill now lies in the state Senate.

Too bad if you think the bill is a good idea. All signs are that it was dead on arrival in the Senate. It’s failed to pass twice before, and Gov. Cuomo and the Republicans who more or less run the Senate have long opposed it. Cuomo has said the state’s Utility Intervention Unit, a group in the Department of State, does a good enough job pushing consumer interests. And the PSC says speaking for consumers is part of its job, so there’s no need for a separate advocate.

Yet Democratic legislators and AARP are trying again. “New York consumers already pick up the $10 million-plus annual tab for their utility companies to push regulators for rate increases,” said Beth Finkel, the state AARP director. She’s talking about this January 2014 AARP study, which noted that New York is one of just 10 states without an “independent, sufficiently funded utility consumer advocate office to fight rate increases onĀ behalf of residential ratepayers or to appeal a rate increase in court.”

From the bill’s statement of purpose:

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 or 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.

New Yorkers stuck with some of the highest utility bills in the country would be pretty happy if a utility advocate could get them just half of that $153 in savings enjoyed by Californians. But it’s not going to happen this year. No savings for you! You’ll just have to hope the PSC and the utility industry have your best interests in mind.


About Bill Sanderson

I'm a New York-based journalist, and a former reporter at the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire, the Bergen Record in New Jersey, and the New York Post. My work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, and Politico New York. Twitter: @wpsanderson.
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One thought on “No savings for you! New York consumer advocate plan faces uphill fight

  1. Deborah says:

    I think consumers will get more choice with cable/fiber in the future. Young adults aren’t as likely as older generations to sign an expensive 2-year contract when they can get something cheaper and more personalized that crosses entertainment platforms. The same could happen in energy in the future. Time will tell.