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The Real Deal: Will a Utility Advocate Help Rates?
ALBANY -- We all remember those giant heating bills we were paying over the winter and now with the air conditioners blasting, our bills are likely to go up again. There's been a lot of talk about whether customers are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to how high our rates are but there's a new proposal that may give us all a louder voice at the table.
"We saw the highest number of termination issued by all the utilities this year, higher than the depression so to speak, that occurred in 08-09, it's a problem and New York consumers need a voice," says Bill Ferris of AARP. AARP and a number of other consumer protection agencies are pushing for an Independent Utility Advocate Office here in New York State, "If you look at who is involved in the rate cases, the utilities are always there, the generators are there, big law firms representing energy companies are there but there is no single, dedicated, independent voice for consumers," Ferris says.
The Department of State has a consumer protection office and the Public Service Commission has dozens of employees dedicated to consumer protection too but Ferris says that's not good enough, "they oversee the process, they're not there solely dedicated to represent the consumers, they have to take into consideration all the parties involved in the case."
The proposed office would be funded through the state, the advocate appointed by the governor and approved by the senate but Ferris says he or she would then have an 6-year term and full authority to commence proceedings and take legal action against decisions not in the best interest of consumers. He also claims in states that have a consumer advocate, the savings that advocate provides far outweighs the price of the office. "You have major rate cases going on in New York State, you have the future of the transmission and distribution system on the table, who is going to be the voice for consumers," Ferris says.
The bill was approved in the Assembly during the last legislative session but it was not taken up by the senate. AARP says it'll continue to lobby for its passage.