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Legislation Would Require Line Item Explanation On Utility Bills

Legislation introduced in the state Senate would make it harder for the state to hide how much clean energy initiatives are costing local utility users.

State Sen. Chris Jacobs, R-Buffalo, recently introduced S.6862 to amend the state Public Service Law to require utility companies to include an explanation for each item charged on a consumer’s bill. Such specific expenses to be included in every utility bill are property taxes, franchise and income taxes and all fees, charges and costs imposed by the PSC including subsidies for nuclear power facilities and any hydroelectric, solar or wind energy project within the Clean Energy Standard.

Kelly Hawkins, city Board of Public Utilities finance and customer accounts manager, presented a draft Electric Division budget to the BPU board last week and said rates will not increase in 2020, but the utility will likely need to ask for a 2.5% rate increase in 2021. The increase is needed to pay for increasing expenses, she said, including state initiatives that are raising the division’s costs.

Jacobs wrote in his legislative justification for S.6862 that utility users have seen their bills increase in recent years because of decisions made at the state level, but utility bills often don’t have an explanation of the added costs.

“It is imperative that all customers see a thorough description of each expense that contributes to the total cost of their monthly utility bills,” Jacobs wrote. “Without disclosure of each specific expense, ratepayers will be left to question the reason(s) for their expensive bills. Many consumers may conclude that much of their monthly energy bill is unnecessary. It is critically important for the government to be as transparent as possible, so that the citizens it governs are able to participate in the democratic process; similarly we must do all that we can to improve transparency for utility corporations and LIPA, which are regulated by the (Public Service Commission).”

In February 2017, the Public Service Commission ordered that costs associated with the implementation of the state’s Clean Energy Standard be recovered through existing mechanisms and utility bill lines because it wanted to limit customer confusion resulting from the addition of new lines on customers’ bills. In Jamestown, that means the costs local utility users are paying for state programs to encourage wind, solar or nuclear power but don’t know it because the charges show up simply as a Fuel Adjustment Charge on their utility bills. Those charges can can be as much as 35% of some users’ electric bill.

Jacobs wrote that he disagreed with the Public Service Commission’s stance regarding the Clean Energy System payments. His legislation would require utility bills to show how much of a user’s bill is being used to pay property taxes, sales and use taxes, gross receipts taxes, MTA payroll taxes and the fees, charges and costs imposed by the Public Service Commission. The Public Service Commission fees include costs through of the state’s Reforming Energy Vision program, energy efficiency programs, Renewable Energy Credits, Zero Emission Credits, subsidies to nuclear power facilities or subsidies to hydroelectric, solar and wind projects.

“Because much of a customer’s utility costs are not dependent upon their own energy usage, it is only fair that customers be allowed to see every component in their monthly bills that they are responsible to pay for,” Jacobs said. A customer may have no choice, other than to pay to subsidize nuclear power facilities, but he or she should be provided with the exact amount within his or her bill that is used for that purpose. Likewise, customers must be made aware of the precise amount that he or she is responsible to pay because of his or her own monthly energy usage.”

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