PSC commissioner criticizes energy surcharge

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Long Islanders have paid more than $175 million to an energy conservation surcharge that a state official said was never used for its intended purpose of reducing energy use and has had a "devastating" impact on consumers and businesses.

At a meeting of the state Public Service Commission last week, Commissioner Diane Burman criticized the 2009-imposed Temporary Energy and Conservation Surcharge, which has collected about $2.9 billion for the state general fund, and occasionally overcollected fees from ratepayers, she said. The commission voted to approve a recent state legislative agreement to end the assessment in 2017.

"What I find disturbing is we are having now to revisit just how awful the 2009 law was and the devastating effects the collections can have on New Yorkers," Burman said, according to video archives. "We are now first addressing that in some cases the collections may have been significantly overcollected to the tune of close to $250 million, and that does not necessarily include LIPA."

Burman said "the collections went to the general fund and never actually helped with any energy savings or energy programs," despite a stated purpose to "help with energy conservation."

In a statement issued after the meeting, PSC chairwoman Audrey Zibelman called Burman's comments about overcollections "inaccurate."

In total over the past five years, Zibelman said, utilities have paid out to the PSC more than they have collected from customers. "In any given period, a utility could have a positive or negative cash balance, which would be subsequently reconciled in a change in the level of collections from consumers," she said.

Burman declined to comment.

The PSC wouldn't directly comment on whether any of the money was used for conservation programs, but noted generally that New York has established programs to help customers reduce energy costs, among other initiatives. Collected funds, the PSC noted, were directed to be placed in the general fund, after paying costs of the PSC.

LIPA by year's end will have collected $205.6 million from ratepayers to cover the assessment since it first levied the surcharge in 2010, records show. LIPA's collections ranged between $41 million and $44 million during most of those years, but only recently reduced the figure to $34 million.

"At no point has LIPA had a 'positive balance' or been over-recovered," LIPA chief financial officer Tom Falcone said in a statement.

Burman, who grew up in Baldwin and Massapequa Park, was formerly special counsel to the Public Service Commission and counsel to the State Senate Republican Conference. She was appointed to the PSC by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in June 2013.

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