Public Utility Law Program Hosts Utility Law Workshop

Laurie Wheelock led the workshop with New Paltz’s NYPIRG chapter and Village Deputy Mayor Alexandria Wojcik. Photo Courtesy of Eric Wood

Last Thursday, April 27, the Public Utility Law Project (PULP) joined up with the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) to host a free workshop to inform tenants on their public utilities rights. 

The event was held at the Student Union Building in Room 62/63. New Paltz residents were encouraged to attend, so that they could ask questions they might have regarding their utility rights and hear about ways they could combat difficult utility rules. 

NYPIRG is a “non-partisan, nonprofit, research and public education organization,” according to their website. Their mission is to educate and assist New York residents on public policy. 

PULP is a nonprofit, advocacy law organization that provides attorneys who serve to assist New York residents in public utility law. The two often work hand-in-hand to support residents in navigating the rather obscure but complex world of utility law. 

The workshop held last week is the second that has been held recently in the Hudson Valley, with the first being conducted back in December of 2022. That event had taken place in Kingston. 

Thursday’s event was led by PULP’s executive director and general counselor Laurie Wheelock. She, herself, had started her career with NYPIRG. She was the main speaker and presented the majority of the event. Her goal for the workshop was to “empower people in understanding what are utilities, what rights you have … and they don’t really know what their rights are and a lot of people are falling behind [on their bills] right now, because the prices are so high.” 

The event was opened by first-year political science major Taliyah Lowe, who is a member of NYPIRG’s New Paltz chapter. She gave a brief introduction, which was then followed by the Village of New Paltz’s Deputy Mayor Alexandria Wojcik. She also got her start with NYPIRG in New Paltz as well. She is also the liaison for the Landlord-Tenant Relations Council. 

NYPIRG’s and PULP’s recent increase in involvement in the Hudson Valley has been especially important, as it comes on the heels of Central Hudson’s recent billing issues. The utility company, which serves over 300,000 residents in the Mid-Hudson Valley area, had launched a new billing system in 2021. The system had received thousands of complaints from customers, who cited inaccurate bills, missing payments and outrageous spikes in costs. This prompted elected officials to call for an investigation, to which the state obliged, opening not just one, but three investigations into the power company. 

Wheelock’s presentation was chock-full of information but concise. She went over how to address billing concerns tenants might run into. For example, Wheelock brought up the Home Energy Fair Practices Act. The act offers protections for residents against unreasonable utility practices. If one were to fall behind on a payment, the utility company has to wait at least 20 days from the due date before they can act. Termination of power also can’t occur at the drop of a hat, either. They can only occur from Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

She went over many other workarounds and protections, like the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which offers federal grants that help subsidize energy costs for low-income households, and deferred payment agreements. There are many complicated laws surrounding utilities, but PULP and NYPIRG work to provide support and solutions for those in need. 

As utility costs increase, it is important that residents know how to manage utility problems. NYPIRG does extensive work with New Paltz and its students. Off-campus students can also be affected by harsh utility practices and should be aware of their rights and the protections offered.