News10NBC Investigates: RG&E president responds to billing issues and PSC penalty

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — For several months, the News10NBC Investigative team has been reporting on the array of billing and customer service issues RG&E customers have been experiencing.  The New York State Public Service Commission which oversees utilities has now taken notice and issued a $900,000 penalty against RG&E.   

See our stories about RG&E billing issues:

The PSC sent News10NBC the following statement:

“The Commission takes service quality and billing very seriously. In the PSC’s most recent service quality report, RG&E was penalized $900,000 for missing its bill service quality metric. Department of Public Service staff is actively investigating/scrutinizing service quality in RG&E’s on-going rate case and will provide recommendations to the Commission on areas of improvement. Ensuring that customer bills are sent out timely and accurately is the singular responsibility of the utility, and the Department will hold RG&E accountable for any billing errors while ensuring customers are held harmless.”

On Wednesday, RG&E held the first of a series of public open houses about its switch over to smart meters.  The President of RG&E was on hand and News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke was able to speak with her one-on-one about some of the billing issues the utility has been facing and the penalty handed down by the PSC. 

Jennifer Lewke – We learned today that the State Public Service Commission is penalizing RG&E for its billing issues.  What has your communication been with the PSC about what’s been going on? 

Trish Nilsen – The company is measured on a number of factors and one of them is our ability to obtain actually reads and have bills based on actual reads.   As we discussed in our previous conversation, we had challenges with COVID, with staffing and with the number, more than 40% of meters being inside.  RG&E, we made the choice, working with the Commission and working with our customers and communities not to go into homes (during the pandemic).  We’ve asked the Public Service Commission to consider that as they go through the process and we’ll see where that ends up.

Jennifer Lewke – You’ve asked for a waiver, if that is not granted, how is that paid and does it fall on the backs of customers?

Trish Nilsen – If we have a penalty from the Public Service Commission that would not be something that would be paid by our customers, that would be the company’s responsibility to make the payment and it would come from other funds that are not customer-based. 

Jennifer Lewke – Just yesterday I did a story with a man from Hilton who got a bill for $7600 at his residential home, he tried and tried and tried to get through to your customer service folks and he couldn’t.  He called me, I called you guys and it turns out he doesn’t owe it and he’s owed a credit.  I think a lot of people see his story and say, how do I know if I’m in the same boat, how do they know that?

Trish Nilsen – I hadn’t heard the story so, I’m certainly concerned about our customer who received that and I’ll work with you to reach out to him and to also talk to our customer service personnel about that instance.  I’d like to hope that that’s an anomaly and not the actual situation for our customers because that is odd.  If customers have an issue, I would say reach out to us and that would be a good way to get information.

Jennifer Lewke – I will say that many of the customers have told me they have reached out and they’ve been told no sorry the bills are right, the bills are right– when they can get through, I guess as a customer I look at that and say well, how can you guarantee that these bills are right if we’re seeing so many issues with them?

Trish Nilsen – I’m not seeing that there are so many issues and that bills would be that incorrect.  Going to be based on an actual read and then we’re going to have manual calculations looking at those when the customer reaches out to us. We encourage customers if you reach out to us and you’re still not satisfied ask to speak to our appeals team.  They will take another look because we want to work with customers until they’re fully satisfied with us. But we also recognize that supply prices as they are and the time that it may have taken for us to get actual read and that customers home it is going to perhaps create some sticker shock for some of our customers.

Jennifer Lewke – You must see the frustration from customers who are having trouble getting through to customer service or who have questions about their bills… what do you want to say to them about whether they should trust RG&E, whether they should question every bill they get and how they can best get your attention if they think something’s wrong?

Trish Nilson – I am a more than 30-year veteran of the company and I chose to take this position because I want to make a difference for our customers and for the community we serve.  I see that and all of my co-workers here see that and they are the customer’s neighbors and friends as well.

Jennifer Lewke – We’re here tonight talking about smart meters but tomorrow is a public meeting on your request for a rate increase.  It’s coming at a time when I think most people 1) simply can’t afford it and 2) they’ve been dealing with these big bills are saying “Come on RG&E, give me a break here” why do you need a rate hike right now?

Trish Nilson –  Well, we need to be able to make investments in the energy future for our customers, that includes upgraded infrastructure, the growing footprint of our new buildings and communities that need infrastructure, new pipes and wires and we want to be able to offer our customers new products

RG&E is requesting an annual increase in electric delivery revenues of approximately $93.8 million (19.0% increase in delivery revenues, or 11.3% increase in total revenues). RG&E projects that the requested increase in delivery revenues will result in a total monthly bill increase of about $12.95 or a 15.0% increase to the total bill for a residential customer using 600 kWh/month. For its gas business, RG&E is requesting an increase in annual gas delivery revenues of approximately $37.7 million (20.9% increase in delivery revenues, or 9.7% increase in total revenues). RG&E projects that the requested increase in delivery revenues will result in a total monthly bill increase of about $9.62 or a 12.8% increase to the total bill.