Thursday, November 12, 2009

Landlord Discloses Submetering Company "AMPS" Conducted Unauthorized NYSERDA Sponsored Time of Use Pricing Experiments on Tiffany Mews Tenants

Earlier this year, tenants at Tiffany Mews petitioned the Public Service Commission to halt submetering at their apartments. Their petition includes allegations that
  • the owner had no order of the PSC permitting submetering and resale of electric service to tenants (an order had been issued to submeter anticipated condominiums, but the condo conversion did not occur, and the PSC condo submetering rules, e.g., complaint procedures, were different from those that apply to tenants);
  • the owner was circumventing requirements of the Home Energy Fair Practices Act; including the PSC complaint handling procedures;
  • the owner was using eviction proceedings to coerce payment of electric charges; and
  • time of use rates were charged without customer consent.
See Tiffany Mews Tenants Ask PSC to Halt Submetering with No Proper Order and No Filed Tariff or Contracts Approved by the PSC, PULP Network, Friday, July 31, 2009.

The tenants' petition was not acted on by the Commission but was instead referred by the Commission Secretary to the Office of Consumer Services, to be handled as a complaint.

In a recent submission, the owner of Tiffany Mews, Related Tiffany, disclosed that its agent AMPS, an unregulated submetering company, without the owner's awareness, had implemented time of use pricing for the bills it rendered on behalf of the owner from 2005 to 2008, apparently in connection with a NYSERDA experiment:
The Time of Use (“TOU”) billing program utilized at 63 Tiffany Place was a trial program for a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (“NYSERDA”) study. Specifically, the NYSERDA study was intended for data collection purposes only. However, unbeknownst to Related, its submetering agent, American Metering and Planning Services, Inc. (“AMPS”), began billing residents at 63 Tiffany Place at TOU rates beginning in 2005. Such action was taken by AMPS without any knowledge of, or authorization from Related. Immediately upon its discovery in 2008 that AMPS was billing residents at 63 Tiffany Place at TOU rates, Related notified AMPS to cease and resume bulk-rate billing. Accordingly, the billing of residents at 63 Tiffany Place at TOU rates was an error by AMPS and Related corrected such error as soon as it became aware of it. Related sincerely regrets that the AMPS billing error occurred.
It is clearly established that the PSC has no power to authorize time of use pricing without customer consent. See New York Residential Real Time Pricing Experiments Must be Voluntary, PULP Network, August 27, 2007.

For the same reasons we would not countenance involuntary electric shock experiments on human subjects, there should be no state, utility, or landlord sponsored electric price shock experiments on poor people who often lack savings and are surviving from check to check on tight budgets. Time of use pricing has the potential to create great hardship for homebound elderly and disabled tenants with fixed incomes who need reasonably and predictably priced electricity for air conditioning in summer or heat in winter during times of the day when erratic spot market prices are high. For this reason, time of use and real time pricing should be allowed only with informed customer consent.

See Not so Smart? High Tech Metering May Harm Low Income Electricity Customers, PULP Network, April 16, 2007. See also
It looks like the owner of Tiffany Mews threw AMPS under the bus here, in an effort to disassociate from unauthorized time of use pricing experiments on tenants of Tiffany Mews from 2005 to 2008. Under the New York Public Service Law, however, it is difficult to successfully disclaim responsibility for unlawful acts of an agent:
§ 25. Penalties. 1. Every public utility company, corporation or person and the officers, agents and employees thereof shall obey and comply with every provision of this chapter and every order or regulation adopted under authority of this chapter so long as the same shall be in force.

2. Any public utility company, corporation or person and the officers, agents and employees thereof that knowingly fails or neglects to obey or comply with a provision of this chapter or an order adopted under authority of this chapter so long as the same shall be in force, shall forfeit to the people of the state of New York a sum not exceeding one hundred thousand dollars constituting a civil penalty for each and every offense and, in the case of a continuing violation, each day shall be deemed a separate and distinct offense.
* * *
7. In construing and enforcing the provisions of this chapter relating to forfeitures and penalties, the act of any director, officer, agent or employee of a public utility company, corporation or person acting within the scope of his or her official duties or employment shall be deemed to be the act of such public utility company, corporation or person.
For more information about the sale of electric service by landlords to tenants, visit PULP's webpage on submetering.

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