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General News: Skoufis Releases Utility Pricing Report

January 04, 2023

Skoufis Releases Investigative Report on Utility Pricing

Senator James Skoufis (D-Orange County), as Chair of the Senate Investigations and Government Operations Committee, announced the conclusion of his months-long investigation into the pricing practices and failures of utilities and power producers across the state. As New Yorkers head into another year of exorbitant energy supply costs, the report lays out numerous recommendations for improving the utility landscape, including:

Strengthening oversight of utility hedging practices. The Public Service Commission and Department of Public Service should exercise greater scrutiny over utility hedging plans (or long-term energy supply buying strategies employed by utilities to reduce pricing volatility), issue industry best practices where prudent, and mandate parameters and institute penalties when necessary;
Standardizing customer communications. The Public Service Commission and Department of Public Service should standardize requirements for all electric and gas utilities related to the substance, timing, format, mode of delivery, and clear and conspicuous nature of customer communications regarding increased supply costs per a reasonable forecast threshold (such as 10% or more month-to-month variability), access to any and all available customer assistance programs, and any other emergent area to which customers should be provided meaningful and ample notice;
Limitations on retroactive billing. Substantial limitations on utilities’ ability to retroactively bill customers in instances where a customer’s account would experience extra charges as a result;
Requirements for heightened notice by energy service companies to customers, the Public Service Commission/Department of Public Service, and municipalities before pulling out of an area;
Explicit approval by the Public Service Commission of new information technology systems;
New annual audits of power suppliers and heightened requirements for existing operational and management audits of utilities;
Greater transparency of energy supply purchases by utilities; and,
Prohibitions on service shutoffs when monthly volatility reaches a certain threshold.

The report also recommends the adoption of several existing pieces of legislation:

Adoption of the Build Public Renewables Act, S.6453C (Parker), as a means toward decreasing over-reliance on fossil fuels while spurring significant in-state clean energy production;
S.9469 (Hinchey), relating to estimated billing limitations and further requiring utilities to reimburse customers, with interest rates equal to that of late payment charges, when there are overestimates resulting in overpayments; and,
S.9578 (Mannion) and S.8362A (Parker) to ensure low-income and vulnerable populations are appropriately enrolled in customer assistance.

“As we’ve known from the beginning, righting the ship on utility pricing isn’t just a matter of New Yorkers needing to tighten their belts and unplug the coffee maker once in a while,” said Senator Skoufis. “Our investigation uncovered a number of regulatory gaps that, if properly addressed, would save utility consumers money, heartache, and time. I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance these legislative and regulatory priorities.”

“Utility bill surges add stress on the budgets of already struggling New York households. And as we enter another winter with high energy supply bills, we applaud Senator Skoufis and the Senate Investigations Committee for concluding their inquiry into the pricing practices of electric and gas utilities around the state,” said Laurie Wheelock, Executive Director and Counsel of the Public Utility Law Project of New York (“PULP”). “PULP plans to review the report’s recommendations. We thank the Senator for his leadership and partnership on these issues once again.”

This investigation was conducted in coordination with the Senate’s Energy Committee. It is the sixth probe completed during Skoufis’ time as chair, following investigations into: pharmacy benefit managers, statewide code enforcement, housing discrimination, public authorities and industrial development agencies, and live event ticketing practices.


FINAL INVESTIGATIVE REPORT AVAILABLE HERE:
https://www.nysenate.gov/sites/default/files/article/attachment/nys_senate_igo_committee_-_utility_report_final.pdf

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