New legislation calls for energy cost consumer advocate

ALBANY, N.Y. – A New York assemblyman is supporting new legislation that would help bring down high-energy costs.

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara is supporting legislation that would establish the New York State Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate, or UCA. Similar offices exist in 40 other states, according to Santabarbara. The advocate would represent the interests of residential ratepayers before the state’s Public Service Commission in rate hike and regulatory issues.

New Yorkers currently pay 50 percent above the national average for electricity, according to the assemblyman.

“This is not something that is going to go away,” Santabarbara said. “It is probably going to get worse.”

The new 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. This type of advocate is already in place for commercial customers and utility companies.

“So that transparency is there so that they know what is going on first hand,” Santabarbara said.

The legislation comes as people are already beginning to see heating costs climb. Maria Dimeo said she went on the payment plan in 2014 and hasn’t gone off.

“Because it is too expensive to pay monthly,” she said.

Alex Stramenga lives on social security, and seeing his energy bills are not a welcome sight.

“Every time I open the envelope, it’s always higher,” he said.

Stramenga said his bill last year was $195. His bill for the same time period this year was $279.

“It’s just too much,” he said.

Dimeo agreed.

“We need the voice,” she said.

Both Stramenga and Dimeo said they need more help, and Santabarbara’s bill is a step in the right direction.

“Something has to be done,” Stramenga said.

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.

Santabarbara tried to get the bill passed last year, but it failed in the Senate. He plans to reintroduce it this year and hopes both chambers sign on to help residents have a voice that can supply them with insight and advocate for their situations.

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