News10NBC Investigates: RG&E/NYSEG offer smart thermostats to homeowners who will allow utilities to adjust usage

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – RG&E and NYSEG want to take control of your thermostat.  The utilities are looking for volunteers who will allow their usage to be lowered during times of peak summer demand.  Those who sign up will get a free smart thermostat and a bill credit at the end of summer.  

If you have central air conditioning and you already have a smart thermostat or are willing to put one in, RG&E and NYSEG want you to consider giving them access to said thermostat from May 1- September 30.  During peak demand, which is typically those hot, humid summer days the utilities would be able to remotely adjust the temperature in your home.  

“It’s usually only adjusted around four degrees so, we wouldn’t go any more than that and customers are notified at least two hours in advance,” explains Kassi Murphy, a Programs Specialist at RG&E and NYSEG.  Each adjustment lasts for about four hours and most happen in the late afternoon/early evening.  Murphy says the utilities won’t do any more than 15 adjustments over the course of the summer.  

If the timing of an adjustment isn’t convenient, “You can decide to opt-out of a particular event by just readjusting your thermostat back to where it was originally or you can make the adjustment on your phone or the website,” Murphy says.  Customers who agree to at least one adjustment will receive a $20 bill credit at the end of the summer. 

The program is running concurrently with the region-wide transition to Smart meters but, “A smart meter will not allow us to adjust thermostat settings in your home so that’s completely different,” explains Murphy. A spokeswoman for RG&E and NYSEG reiterated that promise while differentiating between the two programs. 

Shelby Cohen, RG&E/NYSEG Spokeswoman: RG&E is here to provide safe, reliable electric service, we’re not here to control your thermostat as our major order of business.  This is a voluntary program that is available to our customers and offers rebates and incentives, but it is not something that we are signing anyone up for without their consent.  

Jennifer Lewke, News10NBC: We have smart meters, we have the billing and customer service issues, now we have this program.  There is a lot going on here for a utility that is in the middle of what we have all agreed is a crisis when it comes to how things were being handled. How do you maintain all of this while trying to pull yourself out of that hole? 

Cohen: We have more than 800 employees in Rochester and many more across New York State who are focused on what we’ve always been focused on, serving our customers.  As you have heard, we have been in a customer service journey as a result of the effects of the COVID 19 pandemic and the great resignation.  But, we are here, we are working everyday to provide safe, reliable electric and gas service for the people of the nine-county region for RG&E as well as our 1.3 million customers across New York State.  Our mission every day is to provide that.  So, you’ve seen a lot from us, customer service improvements, reduced wait times in our call centers.  We’re staffing up in our call centers with virtual care representatives who are now taking calls.  You’ve seen us participating in job fairs toward that hiring effort and a lot of other things that we’ve come out and announced and all of these are steps in that journey to improve customer care for the people who rely on us every day. 

Lewke: We’ve seen that the billing system has had issues with different types of billing and in this case, if I’m letting you in (to my meter) because I want savings it’s going to be a bill adjustment for those folks so I guess in this case, the billing system… is it prepared for this program?

 Cohen: It is.