In Ithaca, Customers Deride Proposed NYSEG Increases

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ITHACA, NY (WSKG) – Residents filled a New York Public Service Commission hearing in Ithaca about NYSEG’s request for a rate increase. The commission organized the hearing and must approve any rate increase.

NYSEG provides 40 percent of upstate New York’s electricity. It’s requesting an $11 increase for electricity.

Tara Morgan, Director of Corporate Communications for Avangrid, the parent company of NYSEG, told WSKG before the meeting that no one from NYSEG would speak to the media though they did answer questions from some customers after their presentation. Instead they offered their presentation and an emailed statement.

It states:

From Westchester to Western New York, severe weather events have increased both in severity and frequency. In fact, between 2012 and 2018, NYSEG customers were impacted by 123 major storms. Our rate proposals seek to address this by making the investments necessary to provide customers with a more reliable and resilient electric system. Our plan includes, among other things, a comprehensive vegetation management program to address the impact that overgrown trees have on system reliability. More than half of NYSEG’s outages are caused by trees or branches contacting wire and other electric equipment. If approved, these plans would help reduce the number of customers that experience outages and assist in expediently restoring power after a significant event.

 In addition to efforts to improve reliability and resiliency, the rate cases reaffirm our commitment to clean energy technologies. The proposals support various energy efficiency and electric vehicle programs, while also supporting the development of energy storage projects.

 Today, NYSEG residential customers have the lowest electric bills of all the major utilities in the state. If approved, NYSEG electric and gas delivery rates would still remain among the lowest. Our goal for the rate review is simple: to ensure the company has the resources necessary to best serve our customers now and well into the future.

All of the 50 people who spoke asked the Public Service Commission to deny the rate increase or not approve the requested increase.

Many who spoke said the increase would place an unfair burden on low-income families and those living on fixed incomes.

Celia Clarke/WSKG Public Media

The crowd at a rate increase public hearing. Ithaca, NY. August 15, 2019. (Photo: Celia Clarke/WSKG Public Media)

Sonya Hernandez told the Public Service Commissioner about what the 26 percent rate increase would mean for her family of six.

They live in a two-room apartment in Syracuse where she cares for her ill husband. Her daughter-in-law does not work to care for her 4-year-old child because they can not afford outside childcare. 

Hernandez described how her family wears more clothing in the winter to stay warm even as their energy bills double.

A translator read her comments in English after she spoke.

“How can we pay for the light bill?” Henandez asked. “No one in my family earns money except for my son. Please reject the price increases. No one here earned a salary increase of 20 percent.”

The company was criticized for doing more to address climate change and reduce its use of fossil fuels.

In an informational presentation before the hearing, NYSEG representatives described their plans to use over $70 million of the new revenue for vegetation control.

Tompkins County Legislator Deborah Dawson said that would amount to cutting down trees which help with carbon sequestration. The company said trees are the cause of 50 percent of power outages.

A representative also said a portion of the increase would be to replace 50 miles of gas pipeline near Oneonta.

Recent Ithaca College graduate Mike Moritz, 23, said replacing that gas pipeline was moving in the wrong direction. He and other younger speakers addressed the impact of climate change on their futures.

Moritz ended his remarks by leading the audience in a chant. “What do we want?” He asked. “Renewable energy!” The crowd responded.

Others criticized the company for delays in connecting and billing for community solar.

The hearing was held early Wednesday afternoon. A fact, referred to as representatives from farmers and farmworkers spoke.

One person from Eastern Farmworkers read a statement from Auburn dairy farmer, Joe Tibbs.

It’s absolutely insane that NYSEG wants a 20 percent plus increase in revenue,” he said. “When every dairy farm has been losing money, selling milk for less than the cost to make it for the past three years.”

To that, the crowd applauded.