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Utilities take steps related to coronavirus; consumer groups call for more

Avangrid utility companies RG&E and NYSEG have announced several steps to help protect consumers and their employees during the COVID-19 outbreak, such as suspending both inside meter readings and power shutoffs. 

But Rochester-area consumer groups are saying more is needed. 

Here are the steps the utility companies are taking:

  • Temporarily suspending service cutoffs due to non payment.
  • Shifting to estimated usage or customer-reported meter readings.
  • Closing walk-in centers, and urging customers to use a new mobile app, the companies’ websites, or phone to communicate with the utility or pay bills. In person payment can also be made at authorized pay agents, including Walmart. 
  • Suspension of late payment charges.

“During this pandemic, ensuring the health and safety of our employees is paramount to our ability to continue to safely deliver reliable electric and gas service to our customers across our operating companies,” said Carl A. Taylor, president and CEO of NYSEG and RG&E. “We began communicating with our employees more than a month ago to reinforce preventive actions such as hand washing guidelines and ways to avoid spreading infection that are now part of everyday conversations worldwide.”

Taylor continued, “We have activated our emergency response and business continuity plans and are working with local, state and federal emergency response officials to make sure that we are providing whatever support is needed in this unprecedented and rapidly changing situation.”

Meanwhile, a group of community organizations has called for the utilities to cancel a rate hike planned for May, and to commit to a longer suspension of shutoffs. 

“As families in our community face the sudden loss of jobs and income due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge Rochester Gas & Electric to commit to a full moratorium on utility shutoffs for the duration of this health emergency. The proposed 30-day suspension is an inadequate response to this crisis,” the group said in a media statement.

The group includes Citizen Action of New York, Metro Justice, Racial Justice Initiative, Rochester City-Wide Tenants Union, Rochester DSA, Rochester People’s Climate Coalition, ROCitizen, and VOCAL-NY – Rochester Chapter.

A spokesman for the utilities, Michael Jamison, said the utilites are in negotiation on the rate hike, and will release information when it can. Regarding the shutoff policy, he said, “At this time, RG&E plans to suspend customer shut offs due to unpaid bills for a period of 30 days, at which point we will reevaluate the situation.” 

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