Advocates file motion to dismiss utilities’ request for huge gas and electric rate hikes and call on Governor Hochul to help protect consumers
(ALBANY, NY) – Today, consumer and environmental advocacy organizations filed a motion with the Public Service Commission seeking dismissal of the NYSEG (22-E-0317/22-G-0318) and RG&E (22-E-0319/22-G-0320) rate case filings. The advocates assert the Companies’ filings are legally deficient and riddled with errors and unjustified capital expenditures. Coupled with the widespread, significant billing problems customers are experiencing, advocates question the effectiveness of the Companies’ management and assert it is not in the public interest to allow the double-digit rate hikes proposed by the Companies. Last May, NYSEG proposed a 34.9% rate increase for electric and 14.9% for gas customers.
Together, this would result in an annual bill increase of approximately $240 for the average residential customer. RG&E proposed a 21% rate increase for electric and 18.8% for gas customers, which combined would result in a bill increase of around $260 for an average residential customer. At that time, Governor Hochul called NYSEG and RG&E’s rate hike request “outrageous and unacceptable” and urged the Department of Public Service (DPS) to “scrutinize every number and word of this proposal to protect New York families from unjustified and unfair rate increases.”
DPS experts did scrutinize the filings and last fall, in public documents, testified as to the many deficiencies and errors contained in them. Now, based on that testimony as well as the DPS investigation into the major billing issues impacting customers across both companies, advocates are urging the Public Service Commission to outright dismiss NYSEG and RG&E’s exorbitant rate hike request and are calling on Governor Hochul to ensure the Department of Public Service sends NYSEG and RG&E back to the drawing board.
“These sloppy rate filings show how little regard this monopoly utility has for people’s hard earned money. They can’t even get their billing right, yet they have the audacity to ask for huge rate increases,” said Irene Weiser, coordinator of Fossil Free Tompkins. “We call on the Public Service Commission and Governor Hochul to step in to protect the public interest by making sure the Companies get their billing straightened out and submit a proper filing before allowing substantive rate hikes. How can any rate increase even be evaluated when the information supposedly justifying it is so inadequate?”
Quoting extensively from DPS staff’s public testimony, the advocates’ motion makes the case that the utilities have not provided the legally required cost histories, budget specifics, and rational spending priorities needed to evaluate their proposals. Additionally, the rate proposal is riddled with errors indicative of poor administrative oversight, and these deficiencies are pervasive across a wide range of projects – both new and ongoing, related to maintenance, reliability, regulatory compliance, emergency response, security and more. Further, this is the second successive rate filing in which these issues have occurred, and problems along these lines were noted in a 2016 management audit as well.
In 2022, the number of consumer complaints about the Companies’ billing and customer service practices skyrocketed to more than 4,700, which was 60% more than the two previous years combined. As a result the DPS Consumer Advocate is expanding its investigation into the billing problems.
“It’s unfair to ask customers who are already struggling to pay more for the same service, but it’s unjust to do so while under investigation for widespread billing problems,” said Laurie Wheelock, Executive Director and Counsel of the Public Utility Law Project (“PULP”). “The numerous billing issues, along with the repeated deficiencies in the Companies’ rate case filings, suggest systemic problems within the management and operations of NYSEG and RG&E. We join our colleagues in calling on the Commission to dismiss this unaffordable and unsupportable rate hike request.”
“Rochester is one of the poorest cities in NY State, hit hard by Covid and now hit hard again by extreme billing problems, with no end in sight,” said Kristen Van Hooreweghe of Climate Solutions Accelerator of the Genesee-Finger Lakes Region. “Meanwhile NYSEG and RG&E have paid almost a billion dollars in dividends to their parent company, Avangrid, since the pandemic hit. The PSC should dismiss these exorbitant and poorly substantiated rate proposals and instead make the Companies’ shareholders pay to fix the mess.”
“It is deeply troubling that these Companies are demanding double digit rate increases while flouting even basic information requirements,” said Jessica Azulay, Executive Director of Alliance for a Green Economy (AGREE). “If the PSC does not dismiss this filling, it will signal to utilities across New York State that evading public accountability is acceptable, and New Yorkers will pay the cost.”
“It’s bad enough that the Companies are seeking enormous rate hikes at a time when their customers already are burdened with high utility bills,” said Beth Finkel, State Director of AARP New York. “The request is made even worse by the fact that the Companies have failed to provide the details necessary to justify their requests, or give the Department of Public Service staff the information they need to make informed decisions in this case. The record in this case reflects that over and over. Add the ongoing customer billing fiasco and the Department has no reasonable choice but to stand up for ratepayers and dismiss this egregious rate hike request.”
To view the public comments filed in the investigation into the Companies billing practices (23-00068), click into the docket and pick the tab that says “Public Comments”.
To file a comment about your experience as a NYSEG/RGE customer since July 2022, please use this link. *Do note that this page is for comments only. To file a complaint against the Company, follow the instructions at the bottom of the page.
(Fossil Free Tompkins) Irene Weiser – 607-435-3010 or firstname.lastname@example.org
(PULP) Ian Donaldson – (518) 930-4221 or email@example.com