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Relief Urged for Strapped NY Ratepayers

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April 30, 2012

NEW YORK - A federal judge gets advice from state regulators today on how to divide up $78 million being set aside to benefit New York utility customers. The money comes from a settlement of an energy-market manipulation case, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is asking state regulators for the best way to return it.

Bill Ferris, legislative director for AARP-NY, says too many New Yorkers are struggling to pay their utility bills, and they need the state to invest in programs that will provide them with some relief.

"We'd like to see an increase in the funding of the home energy assistance program, as well as New York's weatherization program and the very popular efficiency appliance rebate program."

Ferris says the rebate program can save New Yorkers up to $300 when they buy an energy-efficient appliance. AARP sent recommendations to Gov. Cuomo and the State Public Service Commission earlier this month.

Ferris says New York consumers also need long-term help, in the form of an independent expert or group that will fight for ratepayers at state and federal rate hearings.

"Right now, in New York there's really no one representing consumers. We think some of this money should be used to get a seat at the table when the government works with the utility companies surrounding energy rates and consumer protections."

A group of industrial and manufacturing companies has suggested the money be returned to utility customers based on who was harmed the most. Ferris says that could short-change residential customers, who are in the most need of help.

"We have a termination problem in this state. In 2010, an average of 864 households each day lost their gas and electricity service due to nonpayment."

After reviewing the proposals, the judge is expected to make a recommendation in May.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY