Monday, February 23, 2009

PULP Files Comments on PSC Proposal to Relax Submetering Rules

On February 23, 2009 PULP filed its comments on proposals of the PSC Staff to "Streamline" existing rules of the agency that apply to submetering and the sale of electric service by landlords to their tenants. The opportunity to file informal comments was provided after a technical conference held in January. See PSC to Hold Technical Conference on Electricity Submetering Issues; Submetering Technical Conference Postponed to January.

The "streamlining" proposed by PSC would get rid of the requirement for individual PSC orders granting an exception to the general rule against the reselling of utility service. PULP urged instead that more attention be paid to consumer interests, recommending that any new regulations spell out tenant protection and energy efficiency requirements, including that:
  • electricity will not be deemed under leases to be “additional rent,”
  • responsibility for space heating not be transferred from landlords to tenants,
  • in no instance will tenants be charged more than a direct service customer of the traditional utility would be charged for full service,
  • each bill for submetered service show a comparison with utility charges.
  • express tenant consent be obtained for any "time of use" or "real time" pricing, and that such pricing will not be mandated in any leases,
  • submetered service be provided with no markup for profit, and that landlords' books and records of all charges will be kept subject to commission audit and review,
  • before submetering begins, the building and major energy-consuming appliances owned by the landlord meet NYSERDA-specified energy efficiency benchmarks, documented by an energy audit by a NYSERDA-approved contractor,
  • a tenant impact assessment be conducted to identify consumption history, seasonal usage patterns, impact on low-income tenants, anticipated average charges and estimated average financial impacts for typical apartments,
  • there be a sound plan for providing outreach and education services to tenants,
  • the prospective submeterer and its agents have received basic HEFPA training,
  • certification that tenants are actually informed of HEFPA and other rights they will have as utility consumers prior to submetering, including information about the PSC complaint determination process, and
  • there be timely notification of tenants to permit their input on the application for submetering.
PULP pointed out that once the landlord has rid himself of the obligation to pay electric bills he may have less incentive to improve thermal efficiency of the structure with windows and insulation, and less incentive to replace energy wasting appliances.

PULP also questioned whether there is sufficient reliable evidence to support claims made by submetering proponents of large electricity usage reductions due to changes in tenant behavior after responsibility for service is put in their names. The report of such savings repeatedly relied on by the Commission is old, involved only three buildings, and was performed by the same submetering consultant who also co-authored the 2001 NYSERDA Submetering Manual and who is a petitioner in dozens of cases seeking waiver of the general prohibition against submetering. The NYSERDA Manual at page 30 suggests that landlords may want to evict tenants and circumvent utility customer rights and remedies under the Public Service Law.
See PSC and NYSERDA Spend Millions for Submetering Projects Violating Residential Tenants' Rights.

For further information search this blog for "submetering" and see PULP's website page on submetering.

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