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Contacts: Erik Kriss, ekriss@aarp.org; David Irwin, dirwin@aarp.org

 

AARP Details Expenses by Utility; Says Tab Underscores Need for Independent Utility Rate Watchdog in Final State Budget

 

ALBANY, N.Y. – New York’s utilities, including international energy companies, charge state consumers some of the highest residential electric rates in the nation – more than twice the national average for many – and bill their own customers for the cost of trying to push those rates even higher.

 

With those same utility companies now fighting an effort to give residential customers a sorely needed voice in rate cases, AARP today detailed the costs each of New York’s utility companies has passed on to its customers for the lawyers and experts who push for rate increases.

 

The association is calling on those customers’ representatives in Albany to provide their constituents the kind of counterweight already in place in 40 other states.

 

Now is the time for New York’s state leaders to do so by including a strong utility consumer advocate as part of the 2014-15 state budget currently under negotiation and due by April 1.

 

From 2009 through 2012, New York’s utility companies passed on to their own customers more than $43 million to cover the companies’ costs in pushing for rate increases, including:

 

-          National Grid, serving most of Eastern and Central New York and portions of the North Country, Western New York, the Southern Tier and the Hudson Valley, which passed on to its customers $18,209,768 in expenses to push rate increases.

 

-          Consolidated Edison (New York City and Westchester County), $11,537,528.

 

-          National Fuel Gas (Western New York), $3,647,252.

 

-          Brooklyn Union Gas Company (KEDNY), $2,996,600.

 

-          Rochester Gas & Electric, $1,569,400.

 

-          New York State Electric & Gas (most of the Southern Tier and Mohawk Valley, as well as portions of Central, Western and Eastern New York, the North Country, the Hudson Valley and the Rochester area), $1,477,356.

 

-          Central Hudson (most of the Hudson Valley), $1,430,776.

 

-          Key Span Gas Energy Delivery of Long Island (KEDLI), $1,349,260.

 

-          Orange & Rockland, $17,186.

 

“Talk about the deck being stacked against consumers,” said Beth Finkel, State Director for AARP in New York State. “You have international utility companies spending their customers’ money freely to persuade regulators to raise those very same customers’ rates, and now these companies are mobilizing to deny their customers any kind of a meaningful voice at the table.

 

“This is not discretionary spending – it’s as basic a necessity as food, shelter and medications,” Finkel noted. “And it’s becoming particularly hard for older New Yorkers on fixed and limited incomes to afford. With the recent doubling and tripling of many New Yorkers’ utility bills because of energy price spikes during this unusually cold winter, it’s time for our leaders to step up and even the playing field for their constituents once and for all by including a utility consumer advocate with the power to sue as part of the state budget.”

 

Thousands of AARP members have emailed and called their legislators recently to demand an independent utility consumer advocate. Thousands more association members wrote letters and sent postcards that AARP volunteers delivered this week to lawmakers in Albany.

 

Utility companies recently filed memoranda of opposition to a bill to empower an independent utility consumer advocate. The legislation is sponsored by State Senator Diane Savino and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who are fighting to include their proposal in the state budget. The Assembly proposed an advocate as part of its 2014-15 budget bill and the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference, which controls the Senate in a coalition with the Republicans and includes Senator Savino, also strongly favors an independent advocate as part of next year’s state budget.

 

Forty other states have independent utility consumer advocates with the power to sue, and those advocates save ratepayers millions of dollars a year. Connecticut’s advocate reported beating back $730 million in potential rate increases in 2012. New York is the largest state without such an independent advocate.

 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Moreland Commission on Utility Storm Preparation and Response recognized New York’s uneven playing field and recommended an independent utility consumer advocate to represent residential ratepayers (pgs 44-46).

 

AARP is urging the Governor and state lawmakers to follow the advice of the commission’s experts.

 

Follow us on Twitter:  @AARPNY and Facebook: AARP New York

 

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.