With parts of New York, including the Bronx, still recovering from power outages after Tropical Storm Isaias, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz announced plans to introduce legislation modernizing consumer protections for utility consumers.
It would supplement existing legislation from Dinowitz to create a statewide, independent Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate as well as legislation to reform complaint procedures against utility providers by the Public Service Commission.
The modernized Utility Consumer Bill of Rights will propose reforms to utility provider procedure during service outages, such as what has frequently occurred in New York City during recent storms and heat waves. The bill is intended to be part of a broader discussion about how to better regulate power companies to serve the interests of consumers and proposed reforms will include:
- Claim reimbursements: Establish minimum standards for utility providers statewide with respect to length or scope of an outage triggering automatic financial compensation, limiting the length of processing time before a claim is paid to the consumer, acceptable forms of documentation when filing a claim for spoiled food or medication and more.
- Emergency support locations: Strengthen requirements for utility providers to offer cold storage alternatives, battery charging capability and other necessary support services by increasing the minimum quantity and geographic distribution of emergency support locations during a major outage.
- Life-sustaining equipment: Codify core temporary services that utility providers must offer to people with medical equipment that relies on electricity, such as alternate living accommodations or use of a backup generator.
- Commercial losses: Expand an outdated definition of commercial services that are eligible for claim reimbursement by codifying language that addresses people who work from home and commercial activities beyond those involving perishable merchandise.
- Transparency: Ensure all utility consumers are aware of their rights and what their obligations as a consumer are, such as reminding consumers on a regular basis to register any life-sustaining equipment and promptly report any outages to their utility provider.
The proposed legislation is still being drafted and will incorporate feedback received at the Aug. 20 state legislative joint hearing on “Power and communication failures from Tropical Storm Isaias.” The scope of the proposal is expected to grow as the bill is discussed among legislators in coming weeks.
“New Yorkers should not feel powerless even if their power is out,” Dinowitz said. “Utility providers have gotten more than their fair share of rate increases over the years, but consumers have only gotten worse and worse service in return. It’s time we demand more from the utility providers who hold exclusive rights to profit from the provision of essential services to our communities. I look forward to discussing my proposal for a modernized Utility Consumer Bill of Rights with my colleagues and am optimistic that we will be able to make tangible and impactful change that benefits working people in New York State.”