News10NBC Investigates: RG&E threatening to shut off customers for uninspected meters

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The complaints about RG&E, its billing and customer service, continue to pour into the News10NBC newsroom and now it appears the utility is shutting off, or threatening to shut off customers who aren’t even behind on their bills. 

The gas meter for Ashley Brayer’s home in Gates is in the basement. In late spring, like all RG&E customers with inside meters, she was told she needed to call and schedule an appointment to have it inspected. She did that, but the day before her appointment, she got a call saying it was canceled.

See our stories about RG&E billing issues:

“They said, ‘Please call and make a new appointment,’ so I called and made a new appointment,” she recalls. “I made it for July and the day before that appointment they called and said ‘I’m really sorry but the technician we were going to send out has been diagnosed with COVID so we’re gonna have to reschedule it.'”

The request then turned into a demand with the threat of a penalty.

“They ended up sending me another letter in August telling me that they were going to start charging me $100 if I kept refusing access to my meter,” she says. “When I called the lady I said to her ‘You know I’ve made two appointments. You’ve canceled both of them. I don’t understand how we’re going to start threatening people to charge them money.’ I said, ‘can I start charging you $100 every time you don’t show up?’” 

Brayer made another appointment for Tuesday, Sept. 27. She stayed home all day long.

“Nobody came, so I called on Wednesday and I sat on hold for two hours and 47 minutes,” she says. 

And when she finally got passed along to someone in the right department, “He tells me that there’s a hold on my meter because they shut my meter off, that my gas was turned off at the street.” she says. “I said, ‘No it wasn’t. I cooked the night before for my children. My gas is still on.’ He said ‘no ma’am we shut it off for safety reasons.’ ‘No sir you didn’t.’”

An RG&E tech came out the next day and confirmed the gas was still on.

“He’s like, ‘well, I’m here let me at least do the inspection,'” she said. “‘Let me get in there. I’ll do the inspection and get the meter read and everything will be OK.’”

The meter passed inspection and Brayer thought the frustrating situation was finally behind her until 48 hours later.

“They shut my gas off at 10:34 in the morning on a Saturday,” she says. “There is nobody at customer service to speak to so the only thing I was left with was the emergency gas line.”

So that’s when she called. 

“He didn’t know why they shut it off but it was not a gas emergency so it was not their problem,” Brayer says. “I’d have to wait until Monday to talk to customer service and I said ‘That’s not good enough. I have five children. I have two dogs. I have a life. You can’t just go around shutting people’s lifelines off.'”

News10NBC has heard from at least a dozen other RG&E customers, current on their bills, who say they too have been charged a $100 fee and threatened with shut-offs for non-inspections despite the fact they were home at the scheduled inspection times and no one came. 

In a statement, a spokesman for the utility tells News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke, “RG&E does not shut off customers in need of a routine safety inspection without notice. We contact customers months in advance using emails, outbound phone calls, in-person visits, mailings and certified letters if needed. This customer was shut off in error. When the error was realized supervisory staff worked with the customer directly to facilitate a reestablish service, during which an issue with the customer’s piping was discovered. This prolonged the outage until the customer could have their issue addressed, at which time the gas service was restored. Since 2019 we have successfully completed 131,914 of these inspections, which is roughly 94% of all inside service lines in the RG&E service area. These periodic safety inspections, required by New York State, are important to help identify any safety issues, such as the one discovered in this case.”

News10NBC followed up with specific questions about whether the utility sends a certified letter in every case before a turn-off happens for a non-inspection and how RG&E is determining who has to pay the $100 fee and who doesn’t if it’s having staffing issues that are delaying the inspections.

RG&E tells News10NBC it typically sends a certified letter before a turn-off happens for a non-inspection. If a customer sees the $100 fee on their bill for a non-inspection, it will be credited back to them after an inspection is complete.

News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke spoke with the RG&E president last month about the slew of customer service and billing issues customers have experienced in recent months.

The New York State Public Service Commission oversees utilities. If you’ve experienced issues, you can file a complaint here.