New York’s Utility Project is an initiative of the Public Utility Law Project of New York, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that has advocated for universal service, affordability, and customer protections for New York State utility consumers since 1981. New York’s Utility Project offers people ways to get help and speak out about utility issues that impact themselves and their communities. New York’s Utility Project builds upon the Public Utility Law Project’s history of protecting, empowering and representing New York’s low-income utility consumers. Some of our accomplishments include:
Crafting the Home Energy Fair Practices Act (“HEFPA”)
Enacted in 1981, HEFPA is considered a model for a national “Utility Consumer Bill of Rights”. It protects 10 million residential electric and gas consumers in New York State. HEFPA enforcement can save lives and avoid hardships for customers facing potential loss of service. We were the architects of the law and we vigilantly monitor its enforcement.
Preserving HEFPA Protections in a World of “De-Regulation” and “Competition”
We actively pursued 2002 amendments to HEFPA that preserved or enhanced protections for residential customers who switched to energy service companies (ESCOs) for their energy supply, including the extension of HEFPA protections to transactions between these customers and ESCOs. In 2012, we prompted a Public Service Commission (PSC) investigation into ESCO marketing practices when we revealed that the overwhelming majority of ESCO customers of Niagara Mohawk/National Grid paid more for ESCO service than if they had not switched, and that low-income customers paid the highest prices.
Protecting against Shut-Off and Sub-Metering Abuses
Shut-Offs: Tenants whose rent includes electric, gas or water service are at risk of shut-off if landlords don’t pay their utility bills. We have represented several low-income tenants in this situation – most recently a single mother whose water service was shut off by the municipal water department to collect charges owed by her landlord. We successfully argued in federal court that the water department’s actions denied our client’s constitutional rights of due process and equal protection.
Sub-Metering: Tenants of many multiple unit dwellings have seen utility bills (once included in rent) soar and HEFPA protections (once enforced by law) eroded when landlords convert them to “sub-metered” service. We have represented many tenants in low-income rental buildings that have been converted to sub-metering: halting unlawful conversions, securing refunds for overcharges, winning back HEFPA protections, and ensuring low-income discounts for eligible tenants.
Pioneering Telephone Lifeline Assistance
Lifeline helps low-income telephone customers stay connected through discounts of up to $250 per year on telephone bills. In the 1980’s, we pioneered the development of Lifeline rates in New York. for low-income customers. In 2013, we built on these efforts by participating in a proceeding that for the first time extended Lifeline to low-income telephone customers of a large cable provider.
Advocating For Low-Income Electric and Gas Rates
We pioneered New York’s first low-income gas rate in a 1993 settlement with Brooklyn Union Gas, pressed for low-income electric rates achieved in a 2000 settlement with Con Edison, secured the first ever low-income rates for Long Island residential gas customers in a 2007 proceeding, and advocated for expanded low-income rates in many other electric and gas proceedings. Since 2000, almost all major residential electric utilities have adopted some form of low-income rates. We continue to work for enhanced rates and full enrollment of all eligible customers.
Funding Universal Telephone Service
When technology and de-regulation change the way people communicate, we work to ensure that all New Yorkers can obtain necessary communication services at affordable costs. We have participated in industry-wide initiatives considering the future of telephone service in high cost areas of the state and rate reductions for low income households. We actively support Lifeline assistance for customers with phone service from cable companies and wireless providers; as well as expanded internet access for low income customers.
Challenging Unjust Security Deposits and Service Denials for Past Arrears
In 2004, we challenged a major utility’s plan to require security deposits on new customers (those without service in their name for 60 days), or those with deferred payment agreements. In a ruling of the PSC, we won prohibitions against these practices, and a determination that default on a security deposit payment does not automatically result in a default on a deferred payment agreement.
In 2007, we challenged a major utility’s unlawful requirement that applicants for residential service with arrears from a previous account pay, as a condition of service, the full amount of the arrears or $1,000. The PSC ordered the utility to stop this practice.
Protecting Cable Telephone Customers
In 2013, Time Warner Cable agreed that its “home phone service over cable” is telephone service subject to full PSC regulation. The utility then asked the PSC to relax regulation so as to extend the days and times when service can be shut off for bill collection purposes to 9pm on weekdays and on Saturdays. We successfully opposed that request.
Launching New York’s Utility Project
In 2013, we launched New York’s Utility Project – an interactive initiative engaging New Yorkers about utility questions, viewpoints, concerns and needs that affect themselves, their families and their communities. In addition to this website, we have a Twitter feed and Facebook page. It is our goal to add more as we go along, such as more Frequently Asked Questions and Answers, to share our knowledge and help empower consumers cope with problems involving their utility service.