STAFF CONTACT :
The Business Council of New York State has reviewed the aforementioned legislation and opposes its enactment.
This bill would require electric and natural gas utilities to respond to all customer calls regarding safety and reliability “where the possibility of issues of safety cannot be ruled out.” However, it should be noted that statutes already exist that require utilities to provide safe and adequate service to their customers and the Public Service Commission (PSC) already has the authority to enforce these provisions.
The bill runs counter to the restructuring of the electricity and natural gas industries that New York State has implemented in order to foster consumer choice. Traditionally, utilities performed minor repairs to customers' energy appliances, despite complaints from trade groups, who complained that the utilities were taking jobs away from their members. In 1997, the PSC directed that appliance repair services become a separate and competitive activity with well defined borders to encourage competition for such services wherever possible. Even prior to New York's restructuring of the electric and gas industries, the PSC encouraged utilities to move away from the appliance repair business while they (the PSC) simultaneously advocated for a competitive energy services industry to handle non-emergency work and appliance repairs. This legislation sends the wrong message to utilities, consumers, and the energy service businesses - including the appliance and heating/cooling services, electricians, and other qualified tradesmen and electrical repair industries - who would be hindered by this legislation. This legislation would encompass the occasions when concerns are not due to safety and the repairs requested are in fact ones that should be serviced by energy service companies, not the utilities.
Additionally, the bill is overly broad wherein it includes “complaints involving interruptions of lighting or other electric service (including intermittent interruptions)...” Since this is not defined in law, this could potentially include failing light bulbs or fixtures, or other appliances that are clearly the sole responsibility of the customer.
The legislation also mandates the distribution of informational brochures outlining various repairs and maintenance issues that utilities would be required to forward to their customers at least once per year. And since the legislation is silent as to how these brochures are to be funded, the cost may ultimately be borne by consumers themselves.
For the reasons articulated above, The Business Council opposes this legislation and requests that it not be approved.