News10NBC Investigates: NYS regulators launch new investigation into RG&E

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — For months, News10NBC has been exposing major billing and customer service issues at RG&E.

Many customers have been slammed with huge bills that they’re not even sure are accurate. When they try to call customer service, they wait on hold for hours. That’s why News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke went to Albany to talk with the only state agency that has any power over the power company and learned those regulators are actively investigating RG&E. 

Typically, the NYS Department of Public Service doesn’t even confirm an active investigation until it is complete, but its call center has also been getting flooded with complaints from RG&E customers. 

News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke has sent the names and account numbers of more than 100 RG&E customers looking for help directly to the office of the President at RG&E, and in most cases, the utility has corrected any issues almost right away. But it shouldn’t take the help of a television station to get results. 

RG&E, like all utilities, is regulated by the New York State Public Service Commission. Richard Berkley is the appointed Consumer Advocate for the agency, and the hotline he oversees has received hundreds of complaints about RG&E recently. In fact, over the last six months, the PSC has received three times the number of complaints it did during the same time last year.

More about billing issues with RG&E:

Jennifer Lewke – At what point do you look at the data and say, ‘Man, we’re hearing from a lot of RG&E customers. Is there a deeper problem here?’

Richard Berkley – So there are two ways that we get into that sort of level of investigation. Policy written decades ago reads that when 25 customers write complaint letters requesting an investigation, we must launch one or if an elected community leader writes a letter requesting an investigation. We have an investigation of RG&E going on right now.

Jennifer Lewke – So, what does that entail exactly?

Richard Berkley – My folks can look at the company’s systems and we can request tests of the meters and all that kind of stuff. 

Jennifer Lewke – And how long will it take you to determine whether something is majorly wrong?

Richard Berkley – So I can’t really speak to what’s going on in an ongoing investigation, but I think if you look at the way the process has worked in the past. We take our time. We try and get as strong a record as possible and that’s because companies sometimes oppose the remedies we require in court if we don’t do our due diligence.

Jennifer Lewke – I guess people will hear you say that and say ‘OK, so I’m just supposed to grin and bare it for the next six months while I wait for you to complete your investigation?’

Richard Berkley – I mean it’s not unreasonable for them to think that. I don’t think it’s accurate because if they do complain to us, as opposed to complaining to a third party — and I obviously think they should be complaining to you because it shows they’re paying attention and they’re engaged — but if they would send their complaints to us we would try to address all of these problems one by one.

Jennifer Lewke What kind of punishment could RG&E face depending on the outcome of your investigation? 

Richard Berkley – One of the things that’s complicating our investigation right now is we simultaneously have a major rate case filing from New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG) and RG&E. And, therefore, it is reasonable to say based on the public record on the rate case you can look at what expert staff from the department filed, that we had concerns about their staffing. We had concerns about their restoration and preparation. We had concerns about reliability, resilience and all sorts of infrastructure spending. So it is not unreasonable to expect that some of these issues could get addressed in the context of the rate case. 

Jennifer Lewke – So again in the meantime, what can you do for customers?

Richard Berkley – We have a call center with 14 employees and I can pull employees from other areas if needed. We have analysts who get cases and they look into the details behind it. They talk to the utility. They’re able to look at some of the utility’s sub-systems and look through that and figure out what the problem is. If a customer doesn’t agree with the outcome, they can appeal. The most highly trained people in the state on utility issues with all the things that they do will stop and contemplate your individual case and come up with an answer. 

Jennifer Lewke – And while that process is going on for an individual, is a hold placed on their bill?

Richard Berkley – When the complaint has gone to the second stage — that is, it has come back to us — that then holds the collection activity of the company. 

Jennifer Lewke – RG&E has told me many times that many of the issues are caused by staffing shortages that were caused by COVID.

Richard Berkley – They are having hiring problems. That is, I hate to say, irrelevant to the fact that they have certain duties that they’ve agreed to and they have to follow.

It’s not too late to file a complaint against RG&E as part of the ongoing investigation. If you have an issue with the utility and you’re not getting through for help, you should file a formal complaint with the New York State Public Service Commission here.

You can also call 800-342-3377 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

You can learn more about filing a complaint in this video:

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