The New York Public Service Commission (PSC) unanimously approved large rate hikes for New York State Electricity and Gas (NYSEG) customers.

Responsible for overseeing and regulating the utilities and services provided to New York state residents, the PSC has approved a three-year rate plan for NYSEG and Rochester Gas and Electric Corporation (RG&E) customers. The decision follows the adoption of a joint proposal that aligns with the state’s climate objectives and aims to benefit customers. In a press release, PSC announced that under the plan, customers will see an average monthly increase of $9.94 in their utility bills starting in November. This increase will be followed by an average monthly increase of $8.88 beginning in May 2024.

The plan was created after months of criticism directed at NYSEG’s customer service, marked by poor reliability, customer service issues, frequent power outages and billing problems, according to Commissioner John Howard. It incorporates new gas safety measures, promotes clean energy adoption, introduces a vegetation management program to prevent power outages, bolsters physical and cyber security and enhances customer assistance.

Rory Christian, the commission’s chair, touted the plan as a significant step toward benefiting customers and statewide goals.

“With today’s decision, NYSEG and RG&E are required to pursue important energy-efficiency initiatives, among other progressive policies, to advance the goals of New York state’s nation-leading climate change targets while mitigating bill impacts for most low-income customers, as part of New York’s energy affordability policy,” Christian wrote.

Local elected leaders, including state Sen. Lea Webb and Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, have voiced their concerns regarding the decision to raise rates, specifically mentioning the potential impact on families.

“While the three-year rate plan approved by the [PSC] reduced NYSEG’s original proposal by 50 percent, any increase in utility costs represents a financial burden for working families, students and businesses in the Southern Tier,” Webb wrote in an email. “Access to electricity and heat should not be considered a luxury. They are basic needs that every family utilizes in their home and small businesses in their operations every day.”

Lupardo, who represents the 123rd Assembly District, added how she plans to advocate for her constituents and stakeholder groups.

“To offset financial hardships on the horizon, we will need to dramatically expand our utility affordability programs, along with who is eligible to apply,” Lupardo wrote in an email. “And we need to have an honest conversation with all parties about what going all electric entails so that we can chart a future that is affordable and equitable.”

NYSEG, a subsidiary of the Avangrid company, provides electricity and natural gas services to about 40 percent of upstate New York. Shelby Cohen, Avangrid’s media contact, said that the plan will allow NYSEG to invest in its infrastructure to improve reliability and efficiency. She added that NYSEG has enacted a post-pandemic plan to improve customer service, including updating its website and app to make it easier for customers to read or submit their meter readings. She also shared specific ways NYSEG has improved in customer satisfaction and has already seen positive results.

“The company has significantly reduced estimated bills, is achieving high satisfaction with customers who contact customer service and is consistently answering those calls within 30 seconds more than 80 percent of the time,” Cohen wrote in an email.

In an Oct. 12 statement, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul mentioned the state’s Energy Affordability Program, which aids ratepayers who cannot afford utility increases. Initially, she strongly disapproved of the rate increase, calling it unreasonable. She directed her Department of Public Service (DPS) to thoroughly examine the proposal to protect upstate New York families from unfair rate hikes.

Morgan Adams, a junior majoring in biology, described the financial impact of these increases.

“The $9 increase is annoying, because students living off campus already have so many different expenses to cover between tuition, rent [and] groceries,” Adams said. “Many students struggle to find a job that fits into their busy schedules to help cover these expenses. Even if utilities are included in the rent, that just means that rent will increase because landlords will pass the cost onto the tenants, sadly.”

Fiona Guo, a senior majoring in business administration, expressed her frustration with these increases as a college student living off-campus.

“As a student that pays for all their expenses living off campus, this price increase makes it that much harder for me to cover all my costs,” Guo wrote. “My job has been paying me the same rate for a year while everything else has gotten more expensive, making it harder for me to stay afloat during the academic year. It is also extremely frustrating seeing that the only reason I was made aware of this price hike was through [this interview].”