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AARP Stops Electric Price Increase

With the third highest utility prices in the nation, it’s no surprise that many New Yorkers are struggling to pay their very high utility bills. In fact, an AARP survey, conducted earlier this year, revealed that 40% of New Yorkers age 50+ have difficulty paying their monthly electric bills. In its work to fight utility rate increases, AARP recently addressed a proposed decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that would have raised electricity prices for all New York City residents. FERC eventually reconsidered its decision.

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But this victory can be small consolation to New Yorkers who have had their electricity or gas shut off because they cannot pay their bills. An AARP report released in March 2011, which analyzed data from the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC), shows that last year 321,995 households statewide had their electricity and/or gas shut off – an average of 36 households every hour of every day.

In its work to protect utility consumers from unfair disconnections of residential gas and electric services, AARP New York achieved passage of two consumer protection bills. A.7778 (Linares) calls upon the New York State Public Service Commission to review existing consumer protections for utility shutoffs. A.7777 (Simotas) places a temporary moratorium on electric, gas or steam service terminations to residential customers until the PSC completes a review of existing consumer protection policies.

A March 2011 AARP report titled “New York’s Utility Termination Storm - The Quiet Blackout” revealed that 321,995 households statewide had their electricity and/or gas shut off in 2010 – an average of 36 households every hour of every day. In addition, according to the Public Service Commission, over 950,000 customers in New York State are currently more than 60 days in arrears on their utility bills.

“The leadership of Assembly Member Guillermo Linares, Assembly Member Aravella Simotas, and Chair of the Assembly Energy Committee Kevin Cahill was crucial to moving this legislation forward,” stated AARP New York State Director Lois Wagh Aronstein. “More than 1.7 million households had their utilities terminated in New York State between 2005 and 2010. New Yorkers continue to struggle to pay their utility bills as the recession lingers.”

“We are pleased that consumer protections will be reviewed to ensure they are sufficient and that the troubling increase in utility terminations will be scrutinized,” continued Aronstein.

The legislation would require the Public Service Commission (PSC) to submit an annual review of existing utility consumer protection policies to the Governor, Assembly Speaker, and Temporary President of the Senate. Additionally, the legislation creates an unprecedented opportunity for New York State to actively address consumer protection policy regarding utilities.