ITHACA, N.Y.—New York State Senator Lea Webb launched a survey aimed at assessing the impact that New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG) customers may be experiencing from high utility bills.

The survey was launched on Monday, and comes as NYSEG and Rochester Gas & Electric (RG&E) — both of which are owned by the energy company Avangrid — are being investigated by New York state regulators for an array of billing issues their customers have been reporting. 

Complaints and comments from NYSEG and RG&E customers include stories of seeing bills arrive in the mail hundreds of dollars over what they would expect, with unexplained late fees or other surprise charges. Customers of the utilities have reported that they’ve found it difficult or impossible to reach the proper customer service representatives to remedy the situation. It is unclear what the scope of the billing issue really is, and the exact causes behind it. 

Webb’s survey is targeted at NYSEG customers within the area she represents, New York’s 52nd State Senate District, which includes Tompkins and Cortland Counties, and part of Broome County.

Webb told The Ithaca Voice that the survey is focused at getting a broader and deeper sense of what financial hardship’s her constituents may be dealing with as a result of the billing issues at NYSEG. Webb said she’s “hearing from constituents that they’re still actively having to choose between paying their utility bill, or paying their rent.” 

“Our office has heard from constituents across the district who are continuing to struggle with billing issues from NYSEG. And then, of course, folks have significant concern with regards to the proposed double digit rate increase.”

Both NYSEG and RG&E are asking state regulators to grant large rate hikes, in part, the utilities say, to pay for large capital expenditures associated with New York State’s climate goals, like investments in transmission infrastructure. In May 2022, NYSEG originally requested a rate increase of 34.9% for electric and 14.9% for gas. RG&E requested a rate increase of 21% for electric and 18.8% for gas. Rate increases granted to utilities by state regulators are typically much lower than what was originally requested.

Webb previously signed a letter along with 31 other state lawmakers asking state regulators to reject NYSEG and RG&E’s rate increase, or at least impose an austerity increase, until the billing issues at the utilities are addressed.

Surprisingly high bills, though, are in part due to volatility in the energy market, NYSEG said in response to a request for comment from The Ithaca Voice. Supply constraints, global events, and increased fuel prices are all factors that the utility cited as causes for increases in energy bills. “Unfortunately, NYSEG has no control over the increase in prices pushed by these energy producers and has to pass through those increased costs to the customer,”  NYSEG’s statement reads.

On the issue of billing mistakes, Shelby Cohen, a communications officer with NYSEG, said that the company has been hiring customer service and customer billing staffers since last fall in order to address whatever the underlying issues have been. 

In response to a request for comment on Webb’s survey from The Ithaca Voice, Jim Denn, a public information officer for New York’s Public Service Commission — the agency that oversees the state’s utilities  — said that the department “continues to review the hundreds of comments and complaints we have received regarding RG&E and NYSEG billing issues, and next steps will be determined after that review is complete.”

“Given our detailed and ongoing investigation into billing issues at NYSEG and RG&E, it is clear that our number one priority remains with protecting consumers,” said Denn. 

Webb’s survey will be open until June 15th. 

Jimmy Jordan is Senior Reporter for The Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn