RG&E Customers protest at Rochester City Hall

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – After months and months of billing and customer service issues at RG&E, there’s a growing call to consider a public utility for Rochester. 

Supporters of the idea rallied in front of Rochester City Hall on Monday where City Council members were supposed to meet privately with RG&E management.  That meeting was ultimately cancelled, but that didn’t stop frustrated customers from gathering anyway.

Many of the folks who came to the protest have experienced similar issues to what News10NBC has been reporting on for nearly a year.  Giant bills after actual meter reads, the utility not showing up for scheduled appointments, unjustified fees and surcharges and billing errors.  In many cases when customers call to complain or just to get an explanation, they can’t get through. 

“You try to make appointments, you can’t talk to anybody, you can’t leave a message, it’s a mess,” says Elieen Rehn, an RG&E Customer.  She joined community advocates at Metro Justice who have also been getting a lot of calls from people looking for help, “it’s constant, everybody is really, really upset with RG&E and is just tired of not seeing things get better and only seeing their bills go up,” says Mohini Sharma.

The President of RG&E was honest during an October Interview with News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke about the fact that the utility is struggling, particularly with staffing:

Jennifer Lewke – I continue to still get 10-15 calls or emails a day from customers who simply cannot get through to a live person at RG&E or if they can it’s only after waiting hours.

Trish Nilsen – It is a challenge to get through to our call center, especially when you have the types of calls that we’ve been getting, which are often more complex billing questions or service issues. That aren’t a quick yes, no three minute call.

Jennifer Lewke – Are you close to being through the storm?

Trish Nilsen – Jennifer, we are in the storm I will say it has been a challenge, it will continue to be a challenge as we bring those new people in and we train them it’s going to take time for us to get through.

Metro Justice says customers shouldn’t have to suffer in the meantime, “when you have shareholders that are making $94.4 million in profit that’s your problem… that’s where you can get good staff, where you can hire more jobs to have reliable customer service, that’s where you can get the money to actually invest in the grid,” Sharma says.

The protestors are calling for a transition to a public utility, similar to what is set-up in Fairport, with Fairport Electric, “a public utility is absolutely an enormous project and it’s also an absolutely necessary one, “ Sharma says, “between the completely untenable right hikes, the terrible service and also RG&E’s virtual inaction when it comes to climate change, we just need a public utility.”

In a statement, a spokeswoman for RG&E says, “At RG&E, our number one priority is to provide safe, reliable service to our customers and value to the communities our employees call home. Like many companies, we have faced pandemic-related staffing challenges, but we are actively recruiting and training new team members to join our existing 750 RG&E employees. We have reached out to Metro Justice to initiate a meeting to discuss the group’s concerns. We are honored to serve the population of one million in the nine-county Rochester region and are engaged with local leaders and concerned organizations to deliver the energy our customers need and to provide customer service and economic development support to benefit our community. RG&E is committed to being a good corporate citizen and community partner.”

As for the matter of a public utility, before it can even be legitimately considered, there would have to be a wide-scale study conducted on how it would work locally and then it would need to be approved in a referendum, meaning it would be years-away. 

More about billing issues with RG&E: