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Saturday, August 30, 2014
We need a strong utility consumer advocate
By William I. Stoner

My neighbors in Mt. Sinai and Port Jefferson learned a hard lesson after Superstorm Sandy last November when they endured an autumn cold snap without electricity or answers from the Long Island Power Authority.

Many – including my own mother-in-law – chose to stay in their unlit, unheated homes to protect against looting.

They realized they were fending for themselves when it came to the basic necessity of energy.

The deal state leaders struck this week to freeze electric rates for three years and restructure Long Island’s utility system is a good step.

But it’s missing a critical piece: protection for residential utility customers.

That’s also been missing from the recommendations of the Moreland Act Commission investigating utilities’ post-Sandy performance.

We can’t afford to grow complacent, because we know that when the rate freeze ends, our power providers will ask for an increase – and will most likely try to pass as much of the cost on to ratepayers as possible.

New Yorkers already pay the highest average residential electric rates in the continental United States – and Long Islanders’ rates are among the highest in New York.

That’s why we need to join the 40 other states that have politically independent utility consumer advocate offices with the authority to sue over unfair rate hikes. Such offices in Connecticut and California have saved residential ratepayers hundreds of dollars for every dollar spent.

A recent AARP survey found three quarters of downstaters support a strong utility consumer advocate. The Assembly listened, and this week passed a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx) to establish a utility consumer advocate office here.

If state senators don’t pass the companion bill sponsored by Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) bill before adjourning this year, they should put it at the top of their priority list for the next session.

Long Islanders won’t forget.

William I. Stoner is Associate State Director for Long Island of AARP New York. He and his family live in Mt. Sinai.

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