Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Dinowitz Introduces Bill to Shine Light on State Energy Policies

  Bronx Assemblyman drafts bill to require majority for meetings, votes by Public Service Commission (PSC), agency tasked with oversight of state telecommunications and energy utilities; three current vacancies on Cuomo-appointed five-member board of commissioners has left major decisions for New York ratepayers to minority

New bill follows decision by PSC to skip recent joint hearing into controversial nuclear bailout convened by Dinowitz and colleagues

  In an effort to increase oversight and accountability of recent decisions affecting the utility bills of millions downstate ratepayers, New York State Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz has introduced legislation to overhaul the public meeting and voting protocol for the state's Public Service Commission (PSC). This comes amid criticism of a recent proposal by the agency to subsidize the operator of four upstate nuclear power plants, and the refusal by PSC to attend a recent joint committee hearing convened by Dinowitz and colleagues to discuss it. 

"The Public Service Commission has the power to regulate the utility services for millions of New Yorkers," said Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz. "The people of this state expect their government to make such important decisions transparently and in line with the majority. If we in the Assembly are required to operate this way, then the PSC should be expected to do the same. Requiring a majority for PSC meetings and votes will ensure that decisions that could impact ratepayers' pocketbooks are thoroughly reviewed and debated." 

This month, Assemblyman Dinowitz introduced bill A.6826-A to amend the state's public service law to require a majority of the total members of the PSC board to be present in order to hold commission meetings or take votes. The PSC's five-member board of commissioners is currently down to two sitting members after Chair Audrey Zibelman left her post on March 20 to oversee the Australian Energy Market Operator. 

The bill comes as the PSC faces mounting criticism over a decision to offer Zero-Emissions Credits (ZEC) to four upstate nuclear power plants owned by the Exelon Corporation. The plan, which Dinowitz has blasted as "corporate welfare," would cost ratepayers as much as $7.6 billion of the next twelve years, according to the New York Public Interest Research Group. Dinowitz contends that this cost would be disproportionately shouldered by downstate customers. 

In March, Dinowitz, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, held a joint hearing with the Committees on Energy, Consumer Affairs and Protection, and Environmental Conservation to review the proposal. Despite being invited to testify, the PSC declined to send representatives to the hearing, drawing the ire of Dinowitz and colleagues. In a subsequent letter to the committees, the PSC alternately defended its absence by blaming legislators for not providing sufficient advance notice, and pointing to advice from legal counsel in light of pending litigation filed by environmental groups in response to the ZEC proposal.

While the agency has indicated that it will send representatives to a subsequent hearing to be held on May 1st, Dinowitz contends that more actions must still be taken to ensure a greater level of accountability on issues affecting so many New Yorkers.

"Reducing carbon emissions is an important goal that I fully support, but we need to shed more light on the state's proposal," concluded Dinowitz. "New York households already feel left in the dark on how utility companies arrive at the rates they charge. It's time we change that."

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