EDITOR'S NOTE 2/2/23: Trish Nilsen is the president and chief executive officer of Rochester Gas and Electric Corp. We agreed to her request to publish her thoughts about the state of the company in the interest of addressing some of the public concern about its business practices amid a widening state investigation into rampant consumer complaints about rates and billing, an unpopular proposed rate increase, and a grassroots effort to transform the company into a publicly-owned utility. The views and opinions expressed here are hers and do not reflect the views or positions of CITY or WXXI News. — David Andreatta, CITY Editor
Just a few years ago, a global pandemic struck every corner of our society with lingering impacts still felt today. Supply chain issues and staffing shortages debilitated businesses of all sizes. RG&E has not been immune. With severe staff shortages, turnover, and a state mandate to restrict home entry to limit COVID spread, our meter readers we were unable to enter homes for months, which lead to inaccuracies in billing with few representatives to handle the volume of calls. Pivots from our normal operating procedures were needed.
When I took over as president and CEO of RG&E and NYSEG, in July last year, I saw these impacts first-hand. Working alongside our parent company, AVANGRID, we are committed to making the needed changes to right-set our customer service experience. Unfortunately, even as our more than 800 employees living in the Rochester community are working hard to resolve customer issues and restore us to our tradition of being “always at your service,” there are people who are looking to leverage past problems to push a political agenda of converting RG&E into government-controlled power. So let me be clear about our investments, job creation, accomplishments, and our unwavering commitment to the Rochester community.
We have heard our customers’ concerns and are taking steps to correct their root causes. We have hired more than 120 new customer service representatives, with over 100 more to be added this year. It takes time to train new representatives in order for them to provide quality service, and we are holding and accelerating this training now. We have also hired dozens in our billing department, already improving the backlog of construction and upgrade jobs that had built up just a few months ago, from taking four to five months to being resolved in four to five weeks.
These issues are real for RG&E customers, along with rising energy supply rates. Although RG&E is not responsible and makes no profit from those increased supply rates, we are helping our customers with measures like suspending late payment charges and providing millions of dollars in relief to residential and business customers who may have gotten behind on their bills. We also offer an array of programs to assist those who need help paying their energy bills and are the right steps to provide assistance to those who need it now.
As an integral part of the Rochester community, we strongly believe that investing in economic development, job creation programs, and people of this community is the right thing to do. That’s why since 2019, RG&E has provided nearly $11.6 million in economic development grants to 230 business and community organizations. Those grants have led to more than 9,700 new jobs in Rochester. In fact, RG&E provided economic development support to Plug Power for their build-out of an existing facility in the Town of Henrietta that will lead to the creation of more than 300 local jobs. We are also entering our eighth year of partnership with Monroe Community College and provided more than $350,000 in funding for student aid programs impacting hundreds of students to support our next generation of leaders. But we are 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 $2.2 billion in electric grid investments will be made to further improve service to customers and reliability.
These investments are just part of our commitment to the lives and wellbeing of our customers 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 our 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 — we are your neighbors. Our people are coaching kids’ sports teams, are volunteer fire fighters, serve on the PTA, and on church vestries. RG&E employees volunteered more than 1,000 hours in the community in 2022, completing two Habitat for Humanity Build Days, a landscaping project at Seneca Park Zoo, and the Irondequoit Bay Marine Park clean-up, just to name a few. In total, between the Avangrid Foundation, RG&E, and employee giving, we contributed more than $350,000 to local nonprofit organizations last year alone.
These are undisputable facts that run contrary to the inaccurate and frankly irresponsible allegations a very small number in the community have made against RG&E. But make no mistake, 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 2021, RG&E contributed more than $165 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.
To those few, I say on behalf of hundreds of dedicated employees at RG&E: progress, investments, and an unwavering commitment to our customers continues to be our priority, just as we restore service street-by-street, house-by-house, when storms darken our door. It’s what we’ve done for 175 years, and we don’t intend to let our neighbors down during this most recent tempest. The people of Rochester deserve safe, reliable gas and electric service, and we will regain that trust with not just words but action.
Trish Nilsen is the president and chief executive officer of RG&E and NYSEG.
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