ITHACA, N.Y.—New York State Assemblywoman Anna Kelles hosted a press conference Thursday outside the Tompkins County legislative building in opposition to the proposed New York State Electric & Gas (NSYEG) rate increases. 

The rally comes after NYSEG announced a revised proposal for rate hike increases in the Upstate New York region, after the first proposal was sharply criticized by Governor Kathy Hochul’s administration. Additionally, NYSEG and Rochester Gas and Electric (RG&E) received nearly 5,000 complaints related to incorrect billing, fueling consumers’ frustrations in 2022. NYSEG and RG&E are both owned by the same company, Avangrid.

From NYSEG’s standpoint, the meat of the proposed deal with the Public Service Commission, which has to approve NYSEG rate increases, would include rate increases averaging about 7 percent each of the next three years for electricity, while gas would rise about 2 percent each of the next three years as well, according to the company.

But opponents, like Kelles, argue that the company is trying to soften the actual impact. In their view, the proposal would raise rates for electricity delivery by about 17 percent each of the next three years, while gas would rise 5.6 percent for each of the next three years. Opponents have particularly seized upon the electricity increases, with Kelles’ office, among others, arguing that the compound effect of three years of such increases means a 62 percent increase over three years, while the company has stated that the overall increase over three years would be closer to 22 percent, adding together each year’s percentage increase.

“NYSEG controls delivery costs while energy markets dictate commodity (or supply) costs,” reads Kelles’ statement on the matter, released after the press conference. “What is critical for ratepayers to understand is that NYSEG’s public release of their three-year total rate hike increases of 22.1% for electric and 6.1% for gas are misleading. Their figures include estimated supply costs, thereby diluting the company’s true rate increases on the actual delivery costs that they control.”

A statement from Kelles’ office also reiterated the widespread complaints about NYSEG’s billing practices and spotty customer service record.

Around 60 people were in attendance at the rally, with many holding signs in opposition to the proposed rate hikes with slogans such as, “Governor Hochul DENY NYSEG and RG&E Rate Hikes,” and “62% Unaffordable.” The conference lasted about 45 minutes and hosted six different speakers, starting with Kelles; Irene Weiser, advocate with Fossil Free Tompkins; Shawna Black, Chair of the Tompkins County Legislature; Anne Koreman, Tompkins County District 5 Legislator; Robert Cantelmo, Alderperson for the City of Ithaca’s 5th Ward; and Amber Ruther, organizing director from the Alliance for a Green Economy. 

In addition to Kelles’ press conference in Ithaca, New York State Senator Lea Webb held a similar gathering in Vestal Thursday.

Elected officials gathered Thursday to rally opposition to NYSEG’s proposed rate hikes. Credit: Casey Martin / The Ithaca Voice

The conference also drew the attention of other local politicians, including Mike Sigler, Tompkins County District 6 Legislator; and Veronica Pillar, Tompkins County District 2 Legislator, who were also present, but did not speak at the rally. 

Koreman, in her speech, read from a litany of complaints her office received from constituents in the past 24 hours over NYSEG’s practices.

“Multiple calls to customer service have led nowhere, I cannot access my account and tech support will not return my calls,” said Koreman, quoting a constituent’s concern regarding an inaccurate bill. “I have no options but to pay the extortion. My wife and I have five kids. We’re both disabled and this is oppressive. I strongly oppose any rate increases and I call for the opposite.”

As previously reported by The Ithaca Voice, within New York State, gas and electric companies are allocated claims to certain geographical areas, giving consumers only one option for utilities.

In a press release sent to media outlets, NYSEG officials insisted that the rate increases will allow for infrastructure improvements, such as the replacement of gas lines and allow for greater tree-trimming efforts to prevent outages. NYSEG also states the increases would allow for an investment of $900 million in support of NYS climate goals among other improvements.

“Our mission is to serve our customers; raising rates is an unavoidable step we must take to continue to meet customers’ current and future energy needs,” said NYSEG President and CEO Patricia Nilsen. “The cost of doing business has increased, as has the investment necessary to realize the clean energy future our stakeholders expect. Our customers want improvements to our aging grid for better reliability and to meet their household energy needs, as well as to support business development in New York, including more electric vehicles on the road and decreases in natural gas usage. These investments will help us realize those goals.”

Ruther, in her speech, criticized NYSEG’s plans to raise rates to “unaffordable levels” and replace gas lines. Ruther also advocated for “net zero” emissions and the passing of the NYS Heat Act. 

“We really need the governor to take action, to stop this rate hike, tell the public service commission this is absolutely unaffordable—this will cause evictions, so many New Yorkers live paycheck to paycheck,” Ruther said. “It is really essential that we also fight for systemic change to ensure heat and light are attainable for all, so that’s why we’re fighting for the NY heat act.”

Credit: Casey Martin / The Ithaca Voice

The NYS Heat Act would cap energy bills at 6% of income for low and middle-income households. As of Friday, the bill has passed the New York State Senate and it is now in the New York State Assembly. 

Those attending the rally echoed the concerns that NYSEG was operating irresponsibly and rate increases would lead to troubling outcomes for customers.

“You can’t do a 62% rate increase, it makes no sense at all,” Ithaca resident Ruth Yarrow said. “There are people on my block who can’t afford what they have now — it’s already a lot.”

Weiser urged those at the rally to “raise their voices” and comment on the rate case. Wiser will be coordinating with Kelles’ office to provide a link to the rate case. 

“There’s a saying I just want to end with, ‘victory has a thousand mothers and defeat is an orphan,’ it’s up to all of us to be those mothers — to raise our voices,” said Weiser. “There’s no fun in just blaming the governor.”

Kelles echoed that shared sentiment of working as a team — a community looking to overcome. 

“Not only that but let’s do it with the governor, let’s inspire, let’s be a team together, let’s encourage her to be another mother,” said Kelles.