AARP Survey: 79% of NYS's 50+ Voters Want Utility Watchdog; Groups Press Senate 70% Don't Think Elected Officials Doing Enough About Utility Bill Increases; 72% Say Consumers' Interests Not Represented in Rate Cases
After a harsh winter that sent utility bills soaring, New Yorkers are fed up with paying the highest average residential electric rates in the continental U.S. and are telling their state senators to take action before the end of the 2014 state legislative session this month.
A new statewide AARP survey shows seven of every 10 New York voters 50 and older don't think their elected officials are doing enough to help them when home energy costs increase, while nearly eight of every 10 favor an independent utility consumer advocate.
AARP released results of the survey and joined the New York Public Interest Research Group, Consumers Union and the Public Utility Law Project outside the Senate Chamber to call on Senator Dean Skelos and the Senate's Republican leadership to allow a vote on a bill to establish an independent utility watchdog - which New York's utility companies are fighting.
The bill (S4550B/A6239B) passed the Assembly last month and has bi-partisan support in the Senate - including the strong backing of Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein and the Independent Democratic Conference, which shares power with Senator Skelos and the Republican Conference. The Senate bill is sponsored by IDC member Diane Savino of Staten Island.
"A utility watchdog will finally give consumers a fighting chance, rather than subjecting them to the same losing battle when utility companies press for rate hikes," said Derrick Holmes, Interim New York State President of AARP. "Energy is a basic necessity that's getting harder to afford - especially for older New Yorkers on fixed or limited incomes. We're here outside the Senate Chamber calling on Senator Skelos to allow a vote on legislation that has the overwhelming support of New Yorkers from one end of this state to the other. The Senate Republican conference is all that stands in the way of final passage of this important bill.
"AARP thanks Assembly Speaker Silver, Assemblyman Dinowitz, Senator Klein and Senator Savino for showing leadership on this critical issue, and we call on Senator Skelos to agree to allow a full Senate vote on this important bill," Holmes added.
"New Yorkers pay among the highest utility rates in the nation for service that isn't always reliable. The reason: consumers don't have a full-time, well-resourced advocate pressing their case when key decisions get made," said Russ Haven, Legislative Counsel for the New York Public Interest Research Group. "Regulators typically only hear fully-developed arguments from industry sources. It's beyond time for the little guy to have an independent watchdog with the resources to ensure that utility service in New York is affordable, reliable and fair."
"Energy and telecom companies have industrial-strength experts, lobbyists and lawyers to push for higher rates at regulatory agencies, and they use our ratepayer money to pay for it," said Chuck Bell, Programs Director for Consumers Union. "The only key party left unrepresented is the consumer. As a result, New Yorkers face some of the highest utility rates in the country. A strong state Office of Consumer Utility Advocate will help rebalance the scales for consumers and ensure that our voice is heard on energy and telecom affordability, reliability and quality of service."
"New York needs a state utility advocate with independence and resources sufficient to challenge actions of utilities and their regulators," said Gerald Norlander, Executive Director of the Public Utility Law Project.
AARP's statewide survey of New York's largest voting demographic, the 50+, shows:
- 72 percent don't think "the interests of residential utility consumers are sufficiently represented and taken into consideration" when gas and electric rate hikes are proposed.- 79 percent support creating an independent utility consumer advocate office.- 69 percent are concerned about their ability to pay utility bills in the coming years.- 74 percent said the cost of heating their homes this past winter put a strain on their household finances.A January AARP report, "David v. Goliath; Why consumers are losing New York's utility game," shows New York's utility companies bill their customers more than $10 million a year to push rate increases and other regulatory changes on those very customers.
Ratepayers, on the other hand, have little to no representation before the state's utility-regulating Public Service Commission. Independent utility consumer advocate offices in other states, which have the power to challenge rate hikes in court, save ratepayers far more than they cost. Connecticut's office reported $243 in rate reductions for every dollar spent, while California's reported a 153-1 return on investment.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Moreland Commission on Utility Storm Preparation and Response recommended an independent utility consumer advocate to represent ratepayers (pgs 44-46).
AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, with a membership of more than 37 million, that helps people turn their goals and dreams into real possibilities, strengthens communities and fights for the issues that matter most to families such as healthcare, employment and income security, retirement planning, affordable utilities and protection from financial abuse. We advocate for individuals in the marketplace by selecting products and services of high quality and value to carry the AARP name as well as help our members obtain discounts on a wide range of products, travel, and services. A trusted source for lifestyle tips, news and educational information, AARP produces AARP The Magazine, the world's largest circulation magazine; AARP Bulletin; www.aarp.org; AARP TV & Radio; AARP Books; and AARP en Español, a Spanish-language website addressing the interests and needs of Hispanics. AARP does not endorse candidates for public office or make contributions to political campaigns or candidates. AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity of AARP that is working to win back opportunity for struggling Americans 50+ by being a force for change on the most serious issues they face today: housing, hunger, income and isolation. AARP has staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Learn more at www.aarp.org.