Trish Nilsen is the president and CEO of RG&E and NYSEG.
The pandemic is over but its effects are still being felt across Upstate New York. Our supply chains aren’t the same, COVID is still with us, and staffing challenges persist at all manner of businesses.
Rochester Gas and Electric, like many long-standing Rochester businesses, grappled with these challenges. With severe staff shortages, turnover, and our decision to protect the health of our customers and our meter readers, we did not enter homes to read meters for several months, which led to estimated bills and confusion. We have made huge progress in improving our customers’ experience with us, hiring and training in our call centers and meter reading department, beginning the rollout of smart meters in the city, and unveiling new online tools to help with new connections for builders and customers.
That work continues. The complaints from our customers have dropped dramatically as we’ve worked hard to limit estimated bills and improve customers’ experience. Yet in Rochester, a small group of people continue to distract from that forward movement by calling for a study on a public takeover of RG&E.
Last week, 70 percent of voters in Maine soundly rejected a proposal to seize the state’s electric grid and replace it with government-controlled power. This is one more piece of evidence that such measures, often filled with misinformation, are not in the best interests of utility customers and do nothing to improve service, but rather put the burden on taxpayers while raising rates, jeopardizing improvements, and arresting the transition to clean energy. (On Tuesday, Monroe County lawmakers rejected a proposal to allocate $1 million for a study of a public takeover of RG&E, but some who voted against it said they needed more time to consider the issue.)
During the height of our customer service challenges, we committed to making the needed changes to right-set our customer experience. Unfortunately, even as our more than 800 employees work to resolve customer issues and restore us to our tradition of being “always at your service,” there are those few who look to leverage past problems solely for the sake of a political agenda.
As an integral part of the Rochester community, we strongly believe that investing in economic development, job-creation programs, and the people of this community is the right thing to do. That’s why since 2019, RG&E has provided nearly $21 million in economic development grants to 230 business and community organizations. We are in our eighth year of partnership with Monroe Community College, providing more than $350,000 in funding for student aid programs impacting hundreds of students to support our next generation of leaders.
But we’re not stopping there—we will continue to invest in the businesses and people in our community and we project over the next five years more than $1.7 billion in electric grid investments will be made to further improve service to customers and reliability. In addition, our recently approved rate case will allow us to increase assistance to low-income customers by more than 30 percent.
These investments are just part of our commitment to the lives and well-being of our customers and community that includes investing in a clean energy future. We own and operate three hydro power plants along the Genesee River that produce hydroelectric power for Rochester residents. We support the state’s clean energy transition and are working with our local partners on a number of projects to move away from fossil fuels and bring this transition to reality. Such investments will also help us achieve New York’s clean energy goals, including 70 percent renewable generation by 2030.
Our strongest investment will always be the more than 800 employees who live, work, and play in our community. RG&E employees are coaching youth sports teams, are volunteer firefighters, serve on the PTA and on church vestries. Just in the last two months, we have been there for both Habitat for Humanity and Foodlink after both organizations were burglarized, providing $10,000 donations to each to make them whole in the wake of this crime. We compounded that financial assistance with volunteer events and our employees are helping both charities get back on their feet. RG&E also reached out to the Rochester Police Department to help in response to high numbers of car break-ins, distributing 2,000 outdoor lightbulbs to brighten our neighborhoods. In total, between the Avangrid Foundation, RG&E, and employee giving, we contributed more than $900,000 to local nonprofit organizations in the last two years.
These are undisputable facts that run contrary to the inaccurate and irresponsible allegations a very small number in the community have made against RG&E. These investments, which impact the well-being of our entire community and help reach essential climate goals, will be jeopardized by government-controlled power that some have raised as the misguided solution for current challenges with supply rates and customer service and will likely cost taxpayers billions to purchase. In 2022, RG&E contributed more than $180 million in tax revenue to local municipalities and the state that supports our local schools, public safety, infrastructure, and other crucial services in the communities we serve—this revenue and reinvestment would be lost if government-controlled power were to be realized.
Monroe County’s 2024 budget process is starting and there are some that will again rally for a study on government-controlled power. We encourage our elected officials and customers to pay attention to Maine’s example, where a years-long push for a government takeover of investor-owned utilities was defeated. Even in municipalities with public power, those voters said no to government-controlled power.
Our more than 800 employees will continue to remind our community about these facts while working tirelessly to improve customer service, modernize our grid with more than $1.7 billion in investments to meet New York’s climate goals, and continue to deliver the service our customers expect.
Progress, investments, and an unwavering commitment to our customers continue to be our priority, just as we restore service street-by-street, house-by-house, when storms threaten our vital energy service. It’s what we’ve done for 175 years, and we don’t intend to let our neighbors down. The people of Rochester and Monroe County have trusted RG&E to provide the safe and reliable gas and electric service they deserve, and we will continue to earn that trust with not just words, but action.