Bill Memo: Collecting Utility Affordable Data

1-Tree: Beneficial rating

Summary

This act amends the public service and environmental conservation laws, directing the departments of public service and environmental conservation to prepare written reports on the effect of the COVID-19 state of emergency on utilities.

Explanation

This bill requires the Department of Public Service to collect critical data from electric, gas, water, and telephone utilities and create a report about the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the affordability of utility service across the state. The bill also requires the Department of Environmental Conservation to collect the same data from wastewater utilities and produce a similar report.  

 Almost two years into the pandemic, little is known about how many utility shut offs occurred, how much debt built up across the state, and how many New Yorkers are still behind on their utility bills. Some utilities, including the over 1,000 public water utilities in New York, are not required to regularly release this data to the public.  

 Limited information suggests that many New Yorkers are at risk of losing essential services now that New York’s moratorium on utility shut offs and liens has expired. Approximately 1.2 million accounts in arrears owed over $1.7 billion to energy utilities as of September 2021, and nearly 10% of households served by Suffolk County Water Authority were behind on payments as of March 2021. 

 Without a complete understanding of the scale and extent of the affordability crisis facing New Yorkers, lawmakers cannot effectively develop policies to help customers and utilities recover from the pandemic. This bill furthers transparency by requiring utilities to quarterly publish on their websites and submit to New York State data on the number of shut offs and liens conducted, customers in arrears, repayment plans negotiated, and more until June 2024. Other states have taken action to collect and publish this data during the COVID-19 crisis, including North Carolina and Illinois. 

 We recommend that this bill be strengthened to make data collection and publication permanent, extending beyond the COVID-19 crisis. Utility affordability was an issue before the pandemic and will continue to be afterward as well. 

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Environmental Advocates NY Bill Rating: Beneficial

Memo #: 11