Senator John Brooks announced on May 4th his plans to increase transparency between utility companies and their costumers regarding rate changes. He recently introduced Senate Bill 4717, which will require all New York utility companies to notify customers about the date and location of upcoming hearings on their monthly bill statement. Customers can appear at hearings to support or oppose upcoming rate changes and comment on their proposals on the Public Service Commission website.
Brooks said he was prompted by the concern Long Island residents have shown him regarding their inability to afford rate increases, particularly seniors on fixed incomes. “More often than not, consumers are notified of rate hikes after the fact and often feel blindsided by skyrocketing gas and electric bills,” he said. “The current system is laughable and we must do more to keep the public informed of issues that directly affect their finances.”
Since June 2016, Nassau County residents have criticized an 8.3 percent rate hike proposed by the New York American Water. Residents were able to find out about an upcoming hearing on the matter by finding a notice in their local newspaper, which was distributed throughout the community by Merrick-native Dave Denenberg through Long Island Clean Air, Water and Soil, which he co-founded.
In a statement regarding Brook’s bill, NYAW President Carmen Tierno said that the organization is “currently reviewing the details of the proposed legislation and looks forward to working with Senator Brooks on any bill aimed at improving communications with our customers."
Denenberg said that the bill could help encourage residents to address their concerns at upcoming hearings or online. However, he added, “What it doesn’t do is force the Public Service Commission to actually listen.” Denenberg and Claudia Borecky, co-founder of LICAWS, traveled to Albany for an evidentiary hearing on the water rate hike, in which they spoke directly with the PSC on the joint proposal the organization had drafted with NYAW. Denenberg said that some of his questions were answered, “but a lot of the questions they couldn’t answer or didn’t answer.”
Nevertheless, Brooks said that his bill will “force the utility companies to consider the severe economic impact of rate hikes before increasing people’s utility bills.”
S4717 was referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Telecommunications on Feb. 24th and has yet to be brought up for a vote.