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Fed-up CNYers Call for Utility Watchdog; AARP Survey Shows Strong 50+ Support

Syracuse utility consumer advocate 6-9-14
Contacts: Erik Kriss, ekriss@aarp.org; David Irwin, dirwin@aarp.org

AARP Members Urge DeFrancisco’s Support; to Head to Albany Tomorrow

SYRACUSE, New York – After a harsh winter that sent utility bills soaring, fed-up Central New Yorkers today called on State Sen. John DeFrancisco and the State Senate’s Republican Leadership to give consumers a voice.

AARP members gathered across from the downtown Syracuse State Office Building, urging Senator DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) and GOP Senate Leadership to pass a bill before the 2014 state legislative session ends in 10 days to create an independent utility consumer advocate office. Forty other states have such advocates, saving their residents billions of dollars a year.

The bill passed the Assembly last month and has bi-partisan sponsorship in the Senate. But the Senate’s Republican leadership opposes the legislation, and the bill is bottled up in the Senate Finance Committee, which Senator DeFrancisco chairs.

With New York home to the highest average residential electric rates in the continental United States, a new AARP survey shows an overwhelming majority of Central New York voters 50 and older feel their voice isn’t being heard by utility regulators – or by elected officials – and strongly support the bill Senator DeFrancisco and his fellow Republicans are blocking.

The bill ( S4550B/ A6239B) is co-sponsored by Sen. David Valesky, a member of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference – which solidly backs the measure.

The statewide survey of New York’s largest voting demographic – the 50+ - found that in Onondaga County:

-          73 percent said the cost of heating their homes this past winter put a strain on their household finances, with nearly two thirds (63 percent) expressing concern about their ability to pay utility bills in the coming years.

-          75 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.

-          68 percent don’t think their elected officials are doing enough to help them when home energy costs increase.

-          81 percent support creating an independent utility consumer advocate office.

“The window of opportunity for our state elected officials to act is closing fast, and we want Senator DeFrancisco to hear that we are struggling to pay our utility bills and we need his help,” said Bob O’Connor of Fayetteville, AARP’s lead Central New York volunteer.

“We’re urging Senator DeFrancisco to implore his leadership to allow a vote by the full Senate,” O’Connor added. “This bill has the votes to pass the Senate. All we need is Senator DeFrancisco and his conference to let democracy take its course.”

“Utility consumers have been playing a losing game when utility companies press for rate hikes,” said Beth Finkel, State Director of AARP in New York, noting utility companies pass more than $10 million a year onto their own customers for the cost to push rate increases onto those same customers - while ratepayers have little to no representation before regulators. “It’s no coincidence New York has the highest average residential electric rates in the continental United States. A utility watchdog will finally give consumers a fighting chance.”

In neighboring Connecticut, the utility consumer advocate reported $730 million in savings in 2012 - 243 times the office’s $3 million cost. California reported a 153-1 return on investment.

“It’s getting harder and harder for New Yorkers to afford energy, a basic necessity,” Finkel added.

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

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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 .

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