For years people have been talking about the higher than average utility costs in Buffalo, which is completely laughable when you consider the resources that we have in our backyard. To think that Niagara Falls is just down the Buffalo River, and yet our citizens struggle to pay the cost of electric bills. It’s unfortunate and unfair.
Just this week, Senator Tim Kennedy announced that he is going to initiate a fight that would begin by establishing a watchdog group, similar to what has been formed in other cities. To think that New Yorkers pay as much as 50% more in electricity compared to the national average is pathetic. Especially when we pride ourselves on our overall low cost of living. But when the utilities sock it to us, there’s not much that we can do about it. There is however, something that Senator Tim Kennedy can do, and thankfully he is going about doing it.
“Western New York families and small businesses are struggling under the burden of high-cost utility bills with New York State home to some of the highest electricity rates in the nation. After this unbearably cold winter made matters even worse, it has become urgent for our state to take action to combat soaring utility costs,” said Senator Tim Kennedy. “As electricity bills surge ever higher, New York State needs a Utility Consumer Advocate fighting hard every day to protect the interests of working families, senior citizens and small businesses. This independent watchdog will be the strong advocate Western New York consumers need on their side when large utility providers push state and federal regulatory agencies to endorse rate hikes and unfavorable service changes.”
The Utility Consumer Advocate that Kennedy is referring to would fight for both residential and business consumers during rate-setting proceedings. The legislation would ensure that the independent agent would push for reforms in electricity, gas and other utilities – seeking to restrict bogus rate hikes while ensuring the same quality of services that customers currently rely upon. From looking into complaints and grievances, to investigating rates and services, to preventing hikes in costs statewide which only benefit specific regions – these are just some of the tactics that Kennedy is taking, that will finally put some pressure on the out of hand utility bills that we have all been bitching about for years.
The idea of the independent watchdog is not that unusual. According to Kennedy, over 40 other states have already gone down this path. In California alone, the State’s Office of Ratepayer Advocates helped to save taxpayers a whopping $4 billion (in rate increases averted). Small investments can equal huge savings in the long run*. What is even more frightening is that “AARP argues that customers are [even] paying for the legal bills of the utility companies seeking to raise their rates, while at the same time, customers lack representation in PSC proceedings*.”
Estimates show that every $1 invested in the Ratepayer Advocates’ office saves the average California customer approximately $153 each year. In Connecticut, ratepayers saw savings of $730 million in 2012 after the state invested $3 million in a strong consumer advocate, a 243 to 1 return on investment. Illinois utility customers saved more than $300 million in 2011 on a consumer-advocacy budget of $2.6 million – which equates to $115 in savings for every $1 invested. Pennsylvania’s consumer advocate has delivered a 98 to 1 return on investment.
*According to a statement released by Kennedy’s office