Arctic Temperatures and Sky-High Heating Costs Highlight Need for Independent Consumer Advocate

As extreme cold rocks upstate New York, Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara is calling on the state to create an independent consumer advocate to help bring down high-energy costs for residential customers.

Santabarbara is supporting legislation to establish the New York State Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate (UCA), as similar offices exist in 40 other states in the nation. The advocate would represent the interests of residential ratepayers before the state’s Public Service Commission in rate hike and regulatory issues.

“High utility costs are burdening our working families and seniors. A consumer advocate would give customers a say in their energy bills, helping them save money and hold providers accountable,” said Assemblyman Santabarbara. “Commercial customers and utility companies have long had a voice at the table, so it’s time average New Yorkers joined the conversation.”

New Yorkers currently pay 50 percent1 above the national average for electricity, resulting in utility bills that are especially burdensome to retirees and older New Yorkers living on fixed incomes.

“Sub-freezing temperatures plus already sky-high utility bills equal trouble for the kitchen table economies of too many New Yorkers, especially retirees and older residents on fixed and limited incomes struggling to pay for their heat and lights,” said Beth Finkel, State Director of AARP in New York State. “Assemblyman Santabarbara is right on the money in calling for New York utility consumers to have their own advocate at the table, especially since utility companies bill those same consumers over $10 million every year to push rate hikes and other regulatory changes on them.”

“AARP thanks Assemblyman Santabarbara for his leadership in highlighting the need for legislation to create a utility consumer advocate office – which 40 other states already have, saving their residents billions of dollars a year – and for voting in each of the last two years in favor of such legislation,” Finkel added.

The legislation would create an independent advocate to represent residential utility consumers in state and federal regulatory proceedings in matters that may substantially affect the consumers, such as proposed rate changes.

“Home heating costs continue to put a strain on household budgets in our community and the recent weeks of extremely cold temperatures have made things worse,” said Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association President Marva Isaac. “I support Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara’s effort to create an independent consumer advocate who will speak up for New Yorkers and help bring down energy costs.”

The UCA would also be required to issue a public report outlining the proceedings that the advocate participated in, the outcome of those proceedings and the estimated savings that resulted for residential utility consumers.