October 3, 2014—The New York Public Service Commission (PSC) announced in early September that it is creating a new Consumer Advocate Director position, for which it accepted applications through September 16. The position will lead a new consumer advocacy organization and report directly to the PSC's chairperson.
In the job description, the first duty listed for the new position was "Zealously advocating for consumer policy matters, including low-income and special needs programs...." The second task listed was representing consumer interests in regulatory proceedings and policy matters before the PSC.
Some low-income advocates are only cautiously optimistic about the new position. New York's Utility Project questioned how much impact the position would have since it reports to the PSC's chair. The Project noted that, for two decades, high-level PSC staff has been charged with consumer affairs issues. These staff members were accountable to the PSC's chair and, according to the Project, cooperated with utilities to "circumvent" and "erode" the Home Energy Fair Practices Act, along with actions that "thwarted transparency of utility pricing."
The Utility Project concluded that the new "well intentioned" position is not a substitute for a "well-reasoned, truly independent" advocate. The Project offered potential models that could be used to set up such an entity outside of the PSC.
Sources: New York Public Service Commission, New York's Utility Project