Monday, February 1, 2016

AM Dinowitz Denounces Unnecessary Con Ed Rate Hike, Vows Major Push to Pass Utility Consumer Advocate Legislation

  Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz has released a statement denouncing Consolidated Edison Inc.’s recently proposed rate hike that would increase costs to ludicrous new heights for countless New Yorkers and local businesses. Additionally, the Assemblyman announced he will be making his bill creating the independent Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate (A. 180) a top priority for the legislative session once again.

The rate hike proposed by Con Edison would increase the average electricity customer’s bill by 4.5%, while the average gas customer would see an 8.2% increase. If approved by the Public Service Commission, the increase would take effect on January 1, 2017.  According to Con Ed, average New York City residential customer using 300 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month would see a bill increase from $78.52 per month to $82.63 per month. A typical residential customer using natural gas for heating would see an average monthly bill increase from $142.31 to $153.30.

“I wish I could be surprised at this sort of proposal from Con Ed,” said Assemblyman Dinowitz who chairs the Assembly Committee on Consumer Affairs, “however it’s not surprising at all and I’m afraid this is just what New Yorkers have come to expect from Con Ed – high costs, low quality service, and no accountability. Add to that the astounding lack of representation that consumers have during rate hike proceedings and it is easy to see how New Yorkers pay the highest utility costs in the continental United Stated. That is why I have sponsored a bill creating the independent Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate (A. 180).”

New York’s utility consumers are currently represented by the Public Service Commission and the Utility Intervention Unit; however, neither entity is independent nor has a responsibility to advocate solely on behalf of ratepayers. Assemblyman Dinowitz’s legislation would protect consumers by creating a Utility Consumer Advocate office to ensure ratepayers are properly represented in regulatory proceedings at both the state and federal level.

“The UCA would help level the playing field between powerful utility providers and New York families to ensure transparency and accountability at a time when New Yorkers pay some of the highest utility rates in the nation,” said Mr. Dinowitz. “This legislation aims to give those most impacted by high utility costs a seat at the table, saving them a considerable amount of money when it comes to their utility bills. The establishment of a UCA will not only give New York consumers an active voice, but also increase oversight in how utility rates are set and services are provided.”

Under Assemblyman Dinowitz’s legislation, the office of the UCA would be required to submit an annual report to the governor and the Legislature – which would be made available to the public – containing information regarding proceedings the UCA participated in and the outcomes of those proceedings. Additionally, the report would include estimated savings to residential utility consumers which resulted from intervention by the UCA, as well as policy recommendations and changes to the law that will benefit consumers. In states where such offices exist, residential consumers have seen drastic savings on their utility costs in comparison to the amount of funding these offices require in order to operate. The UCA would be appointed by the governor, subject to Senate confirmation and serve a term of six years. Currently, 40 states and the District of Columbia have some sort of independent consumer advocate office. New York is the largest state without any such office by far.

"New York City residents regularly pay the highest electric rates in the nation - more than twice the national average - and Con Ed now wants over half a billion dollars more, or $636 million, to deliver electricity and gas to customers' homes. Con Ed's proposal for a 9.5 percent electric increase and 13.4 percent gas increase on that portion of the bill state regulators control, the delivery charge, is simply too much. Over half of city Generation X and Baby Boomer voters, including two thirds of African-Americans and Hispanics, are already concerned about being able to pay their utility bills, according to a 2015 AARP survey,” said Beth Finkel, State Director of AARP for New York State. “This is another example of why AARP continues to support Assemblyman Dinowitz's legislation to have New York join 40 other states by establishing a strong, independent advocate for who can fight for utility consumers when unaffordable rate hikes are on the table."

"New York is facing a crisis of affordability, where working families are falling farther and farther behind on their energy bills,” said Elizabeth Jorgensen Council for the Public Utility Law Project (PULP). “When Con Edison, the most expensive electric utility in the Continental United States, seeks to raise its rates by hundreds of millions of dollars like it did last Friday, it makes a bad situation worse for low-income and fixed-income New Yorkers."

“New York is one of the only states without an independent Utility Consumer Advocate, and New Yorkers across the state are paying the price for it,” said Assemblyman Dinowitz. The price of gas and oil in the U.S. right now is as cheap as it’s been in over a decade, and yet Con Ed has the gall to ask its customers for an 8.2% increase? This is absurd. How is a senior on a fixed income supposed to pay an additional 4.5% in electricity costs? How is a minimum wage worker making $8.75 an hour supposed to pay an extra $10.99 just to heat their apartment?”

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