News10NBC Investigates: During customer service/billing crisis, top execs at RG&E/NYSEG still brought home bonuses
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — For the last two years, News10NBC has been investigating major billing and customer service issues at RG&E and NYSEG. The utilities have admitted that staffing shortages, a new billing system and backed-up meter reads have been to blame for most of the problems. But as thousands of customers struggled to get their bills straightened out, News10NBC has learned the top executives were still being rewarded with bonuses.
News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke dug into state and federal filings to find bonus and salary information for leaders at RG&E and NYSEG. The two utilities are run by the same leadership team, owned by Avangrid and encompass 40% of upstate New York including most of the Finger Lakes Region.
The long-time CEO of RG&E/NYSEG, Carl Taylor retired in June of 2022, as the customer service issues were ramping up. On top of his $335,000 salary, he was paid a bonus of $130,510 as he walked out the door. He got a $120,000 bonus the year before.
Current CEO, Trish Nilsen took over for Taylor, earning the same salary of $335,000. Despite the problems she walked into, she still managed to take home a bonus of nearly $21,000 in 2022 and $14,000 in 2021 in her previous role.
Jennifer Lewke – During the height of some of your customer service issues, that you and I have spoken at length about for the last couple of years now, many of your top executives, yourself included, received bonuses. How was that determined and why?
Trish Nilsen – I received a $20,000 bonus the year that I took on this position. It was based on a number of factors, I did not receive any compensation for any of the customer service metrics that we did not meet…bonuses are set up to look at a number of different performance metrics, so it’s operational performance, like our total outages, the frequency of outages, the duration of outages. Our financial performance, our ability to meet with community leaders and support communities, our volunteer hours.
But even the Vice President of Customer Service, whose job it was to ensure good customer service, brought home a nearly $14,000 bonus in 2022 and $20,000 in 2021 on top of her $200,000 salary.
Jennifer Lewke – How does a Vice President of Customer Service make any bonus when customer service was a mess?
Trish Nilsen – There were still aspects of customer service that were going on the right direction. We were meeting some of our field goals. Some of our staffing was where it needed to be and was growing. Our previous VP of customer service was instrumental in that turnaround.
A turnaround, that is still a work in progress. That’s why Nilsen says she is being transparent.
Trish Nilsen – Normally companies and CEOs do not talk about their salary and if you do a little investigating, in the Rochester area, you’ll find that not only am I the lowest paid CEO for an investor-owned utility but there’s people in the community here who, in both profit and non-profit sectors have a significantly higher salary.
She’s right, according to Salary.com, the average CEO in the Rochester region makes $820,000/year but public tax and SEC filings from 2022, show a wide range of salaries. The CEO of Constellation Brands, for example, makes $16m per year, the outgoing CEO of URMC takes home $1.8 million and the CEO of the Rochester Chamber of Commerce brings home more than $332,000 annually.
And speaking of the Chamber CEO, Bob Duff has another tie to this story. Duffy also sits on the Board of Directors at Avangrid, RG&E/NYSEG’s parent company.
For his participation on that board, Duffy earned $200,000 in 2022 and is getting a pay increase to $210,000 in 2023.
News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke requested an on-camera interview with Duffy, he declined saying:
“As a board member, I do not engage in media interviews.”
He sent Lewke the following statement over email:
“I have consistently communicated all local customer service issues, including your frequent stories, directly to the CEO, Pedro Azagra Blazquez, who has done an outstanding job acting on those issues/resolving them. My position on the board allows me direct access to leadership on customer service concerns and economic development projects – and this relationship has benefitted both our region and the organization.”
Nilsen rightfully points out, she is the lowest paid CEO of any investor-owned utility in New York State. Most also offer top executives annual bonus programs as a part of compensation packages. New York State regulators allow it. In a statement, a spokesman for the NYS Department of Public Service tells News10NBC:
“State regulators pour over the utility’s books to identify ways to cut costs, and we ensure that ratepayers are not improperly burdened with any excessive executive compensation. There is no set rule or regulation in terms of how the compensation is split. There are allocation factors used to divide the costs between multiple entities (in this case the same people work on RG&E, NYSEG, and some non-regulated activities). In each rate case, staff conducts an analysis to confirm that total compensation levels by category of employee is in line with the compensation provided by similar entities.”
Here’s the full breakdown of RG&E/NYSEG Compensation:
Trish Nilsen – CEO of RG&E/NYSEG
$335,000 – Base Salary
2022 Bonus: $20,572
2021 Bonus: $13,570
Carl Talyor –CEO of RG&E/NYSEG (retired in June 2022)
$335,000 – Base Salary
2022 Bonus: $130,510
2021 Bonus: $120,557
Theresa Van Brooker—Vice President of Customer Service, RG&E/NYSEG
$200,000 – Base Salary
2022 Bonus: $13,652
2021 Bonus: $19,887
David Kimiecik – Vice President of Energy Services, RG&E/NYSEG
2022 Bonus: $96,200
2021 Bonus: $45,918
Catherine Stempien – CEO, Avangrid Networks
$625,000 – Base Salary
2022 Bonus: $119,141
2021 Bonus: $37,000
Scott Baker—Vice President of Customer Service, Avangrid
$244,000 – Base Salary
2022 Bonus: $24,620
2021 Bonus: $16,368
Avangrid Board Member – Bob Duffy
2022 Compensation: $200,000
2023 Compensation: $210,000