Op-ed: Savino-Dinowitz Bill Provides Missing Piece; LIPA Restructuring Good First Step
June 17, 2013
By William I. Stoner
(Long Island, NY) When my neighbors in Mt. Sinai and Port Jefferson shivered through the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy last November with no electricity and no answers from the Long Island Power Authority, their focus was on day-to-day survival.
I remember how many – including my own mother-in-law – chose to stay in their unlit, unheated homes to protect against looting. These brave Long Islanders remained in the dark literally and figuratively, unable to learn when their power would return. But now we’re looking ahead to future electric rate hikes and asking ourselves: who will help us, the residential rate payers?
The unfortunate answer: nobody.
New Yorkers pay the highest average residential electric rates in the continental United States – and Long Islanders’ rates are among the highest in New York. But unlike 40 other states and the District of Columbia, New York doesn’t provide residential ratepayers a meaningful seat at the table when utility companies use their vast resources to press for rate hikes.
Our state lawmakers and Governor Andrew Cuomo can change that by enacting a bill that would give New York’s utility consumer advocate independence and the legal authority to sue over unfair electric rate increases. This bill, sponsored by state Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx), would help level the playing field for residential ratepayers against the deep-pocketed utilities and large commercial energy consumers that have dominated New York’s utility regulatory process for too long.
There is ample evidence that this legislation would pay dividends.
Neighboring Connecticut’s utility consumer advocate saved ratepayers $730 million in the 2012 fiscal year. At a cost of $3 million, that’s more than $243 in benefits for every dollar spent. California’s advocate delivered a 153-1 return on investment on behalf of residential consumers.
Governor Cuomo’s proposal to freeze Long Islanders’ rates for three years and restructure LIPA is a good first step, but it won’t be enough in the long run. The Savino-Dinowitz bill provides the missing piece. It would help turn New York’s toothless utility consumer advocate function into a powerful and needed voice for residential ratepayers.
AARP surveyed downstate residents and found more than three-quarters think that’s a good idea.
Our state lawmakers need to hear this. With the 2013 legislative session nearing its scheduled June 20 close and the state investigating utilities’ post-Sandy performance, now is the time. Elections enable us to hold our politicians accountable. But we have virtually no influence with the non-elected officials who approve our sky-high electricity prices. That must change.
– William I. Stoner is Associate State Director for Long Island of AARP New York. He and his family live in Mt. Sinai.