Downstate Outages Spur A Boatload Of Bills

Originally published in The Post-Journal on September 14, 2020.

Flushing Democrat Nily Rozic thinks New Yorkers shouldn’t have to pay for utility services they don’t actually receive due to an outage.

Rozic recently introduced A.10896 in the state Assembly to amend the Public Service Law to require electric and gas corporations to provide a $100 a day credit to customers for power outages lasting 24 hours or more. Rozic’s bill is among more than a dozen that have been introduced in recent weeks in the wake of Hurricane Isaias, which left hundreds of thousands of state residents without utilities after 70 mile an hour winds, heavy rain and tornadoes hit New York in early August. In addition to gas and electric outages, the aftermath of the storm left some parts of the state without telephone, cable and internet services for days.

“While electric and gas corporations have internal policies that can cover spoilage of food and medication up to a point, such policies rely upon the noblesse oblige of the utility and can be denied, reduced, rejected or capped. An affirmative credit, in statute, set at a reasonable $100 per day should provide sufficient incentive for utilities to get power restored in 24 hours, or give customers a direct benefit for the hardship,” Rozic wrote in her legislative justification.

Companion legislation (S.8908) has been introduced in the state Senate by Sen. Leroy Comrie, D-Queens.

Similar legislation (A.11020) has been introduced by Assemblyman Nader Sayegh, D-Yonkers, providing a discount based on the number of days a customer was without power compared to the number of days in a billing cycle. Sayegh’s bill, however, would also include gas companies, electricity companies, gas and electric corporations, water corporations, steam corporations, telegraph corporations, telephone companies, cable television, internet service providers or municipalities who provide similar services. Companion legislation (S.8896) has been sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Anna Kaplan, D-Carle Place, and co-sponsored by Sen. Pete Harkham, D-Peekskill.

“When a consumer does not receive services they depend on, they are understandably frustrated as they wait for those services to be fixed and they are able to make use of these services,” Sayegh wrote in his legislative justification. “As can be expected the longer the delay, the greater the anger and frustration a consumer will feel. Hopefully upon service restoration they find themselves deescalating and again enjoying the services they have contracted for. However, imagine their feelings when they open their service bill and see that they are being charged for services that they were unable to access, this is unconscionable. This legislation seeks to address this concern, by giving that individual a discount on their bill based on the amount of time contracted services were not available to them.”

Other pieces of legislation introduced in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaiah include:

¯ A.10900A, sponsored by Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson, D-Newburgh, which would directs the public service commission to study the feasibility and the costs of burying all or most of the electrical, telephone and internet transmission lines in New York state and to publish and deliver a report of its findings to the governor and the legislature, and requires new electrical, telephone and internet transmission lines to be buried underground.

¯ A.10947, sponsored by Assemblyman Fred Thiele, D-ASDLKJASd, and S. 8913, sponsored by Sen. James Gaughran, D-aflkajsdfasdf, which would require service providers to annually submit an emergency response plan to the state Public Service Commission and authorizes the Public Service Commission to to open an investigation to review the performance of service providers in meeting the requirements of the emergency response plan.

¯ A.10976, sponsored by Thiele, and S.8937, sponsored by Sen. Todd Kaminsky, D-adslkfjasdlfkjasdf, which would require a compensation statement to be filed annually with the public service commission by any public utility corporation or service provider with a gross annual operating revenue of more than one million dollars.

¯ A. 10987, sponsored by Assemblyman Pheffer Amato, and S. 8907, sponsored by Comrie, to require gas and electric corporations to spend money each year to improve power outage response and to stormproof power lines.

¯ A.10988, sponsored by Assemblymember Sayegh, and S. 8893, sponsored by Sen. Anna Kaplan, requiring cell towers to be equipped with a back-up power source in case of a power outage.

¯ A.10991, sponsored by Sayegh, and S.8898, sponsored by Kaplan, to require electric companies to communicate with any patient with certain medically required equipment powered by electricity.

¯ A.10999, sponsored by Sayegh, and S.8894, sponsored by Kaplan and co-sponsored by Sen. Shelley Mayer, which requires utility companies maintain a toll free number for consumers to call to report service outages which shall be made available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

¯ A.11014, sponsored by Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman, and S. 8905, sponsored by Comrie and co-sponsored by Mayer, requiring gas corporations and electric corporations in this state to file quarterly reports with the legislature regarding infrastructure upgrades.

¯ A.11015, sponsored by Sayegh, and S.8929, sponsored by Kaplan, requiring the emergency response plan of an electric corporation to include plans for how the communication and coordination of efforts shall occur.

¯ A.11016, sponsored by Sayegh, and S.8897, sponsored by Kaplan, adding people who can take reports of downed power lines and start a 36-hour time requirement to secure the downed lines.

¯ A.11017, sponsored by Sayegh, and S.8895, sponsored by Kaplan, requiring electric companies to provide alternative measures to ensure customers with documented need for essential electricity for medical needs have access to electricity during power outages; requires electric companies to provide generators or lodging for such individuals and transportation for medical devices and prohibiting companies from passing costs for such alternative measures on to rate payers.

¯ A.11019, sponsored by Sayegh, and S.8892, sponsored by Kaplan, requiring electric companies to prioritize restoring services to police departments, fire departments, and ambulance services, when services are interrupted and prohibiting companies from charging ratepayers a higher rate for extra costs incurred due to prioritizing such services.