Avangrid donates $400,000 to heating fund

New York State Electric and Gas, Rochester Gas & Electric and Avangrid Foundation have donated $400,000 to the Project SHARE Heating Fund to help lower-income residents with their heating bills this winter.

The program also is funded with support from NYSEG and RG&E customers who choose to make contributions through their monthly utility bill. The donations go directly to the program to support their neighbors who are in the most need. The program is fuel neutral, which means that customers can use the grant to pay for any heating source including propane, wood or oil.

“With this donation, the Avangrid Foundation renews its commitment to helping our customers through difficult financial times,” said Nicole Licata Grant, director of the Avangrid Foundation. “Since its inception nearly 30 years ago, Project SHARE has helped thousands of families who’ve experienced hardship. It’s one way we help keep homes and hearts warm each winter.”

The fund is administered by HeartShare Human Services of New York. Since 1982, Project SHARE has helped 62,850 families with grants totaling more than $17 million.

To receive a Project SHARE Heating Fund grant, you must have an active account with either NYSEG or RG&E; meet the HEAP income guideline; have an active disconnect notice; and have exhausted all other assistance programs, such as HEAP, Emergency HEAP and local or county emergency aid.

“This program will continue to help our customers who need additional assistance paying for their heating needs and was built to be a safety net for our people when they need it most,” said Scott Baker, vice president of customer service for NYSEG and RG&E. “The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented financial challenges for thousands of New Yorkers, but even through these challenging times, it’s tremendous to see the generosity of customers who contribute and help others.”

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Avangrid companies file energy plan

New York State Electric & Gas Corp. and Rochester Gas & Electric Corp. have filed their 2020 Distributed System Implementation Plan, the Avangrid Inc. subsidiaries’ strategy to integrate distributed energy resources (DER) into the New York grid.

The plan outlines the framework for how the companies will support New York state energy and decarbonization goals by building integrated planning and interconnection, grid operations and market services functions.

“The electric power industry is in the midst of unprecedented change, enabled by innovation and advances in emerging clean energy, power delivery, and information technologies,” said Rita King, senior director of Smart Grids Innovation and Planning at Avangrid. “The DSIP provides an actionable roadmap for our companies to support the decarbonization of New York’s economy, including the electrification of transportation and buildings, and will enable the integration of greater amounts of DER within our service areas. Our approach is customer-centric, clean, integrated and smart.”

The five-year implementation plan involves investments in several key areas, including grid automation, energy storage, electric vehicles (EV), smart meter (advanced metering infrastructure) implementation and market services.

Within those areas, the utilities plan to:
• Make significant progress in implementing a long-term grid automation program to improve the responsiveness, reliability, and efficiency of the distribution system. Investments will be made in grid devices that measure, monitor and control electric power flows along the network;
• Proactively support the identification and development of energy storage projects that benefit customers and the grid and are attractive to developers;
• Support the development of the EV market within its service territories through continued development of capabilities, including integrating EV load while minimizing the impact on peak demand, supporting EV growth with sufficient charging infrastructure while understanding impact and needs on the system. As part of the recent rate case settlement filing, the companies proposed and are preparing to implement a comprehensive EV Program that would accelerate EV adoption throughout its service territories;
• Deploy smart meters, planned to begin in the spring of 2022, after approval of the recent rate case settlement filing. Smart meters will help customers manage their energy usage, and support time-varying pricing and innovative rate structures; and
• Develop an online marketplace. The platform will empower customers to make better energy management decisions by connecting them to pricing options and programs, as well as to products and services offered by competitive suppliers.

In June, after months of negotiations, NYSEG and RG&E agreed to a slate of gas reduction strategies, retracted $128 million for gas infrastructure including pipelines and funded $1.5 million for renewable heating systems for low-income residents.

As part of the settlement agreement on the gas case, filed on June 22, environmental groups secured utility commitments to plan their systems around no growth in gas use and to offset new customers’ gas use through energy efficiency, heat pumps, and other non-gas alternatives. The companies also plan to study and possibly implement district geothermal pilots. The companies further agreed to end their oil-to-gas conversion incentives in favor of approximately $1.5 million for low-income renewable heating rebates.

“We celebrate the efforts of all the groups that worked together to achieve these precedent-setting concessions in the gas rate cases,” said Jessica Azulay, executive director of Alliance for a Green Economy. “Most of the organizations who worked together to win this agreement had never been involved in a rate case before, but together we successfully went toe-to-toe with a multi-billion-dollar multinational corporation to advance our renewable energy transition.”

As part of the settlement, RG&E average residential bills will rise over the next three years to $100 more per year than before the rate case started, based on an increase of 15.5 percent in delivery rates, environmental organization officials noted.

“The transition to a clean energy future must be affordable for all New Yorkers to be sustainable,” said Kristen Van Hooreweghe, project manager for Rochester People’s Climate Coalition. “The gas case settlement, even with its environmental initiatives, has nominal rate increases. Conversely, the companies and Gov. Cuomo’s Department of Public Service failed to develop a rate plan on the electric case that adequately addresses the disproportionate energy burden facing our low-income community members, especially during the current COVID pandemic.”

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Utilities make donations to local food banks

foodlink-logoFoodlink will receive a $75,000 donation from RG&E, as the local utility and sister company NYSEG both make donations to programs supporting people impacted economically by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The two utilities are donating $275,000 to local food-relief organizations, part of an overall $2 million commitment from their parent company, AVANGRID. 

 “Supporting local organizations such as Foodlink is an important step in caring for the communities we serve,” said Carl A. Taylor, President and CEO of NYSEG and RG&E. The local utilities are focusing their donations on regional food banks in Western and Central New York, the Southern Tier and northeastern New York. 

“Foodlink is going to great lengths to produce 5,000 meals daily for school-age kids, and provide tens of thousands of emergency food boxes to our network during this time of uncertainty for food-insecure households throughout our region,” said Julia Tedesco, president and CEO of Foodlink. The RG&E donation “will allow us to continue to serve some of our region’s most vulnerable residents.”

RG&E and NYSEG also previously donated more than 17,500 N95 face masks to local health care workers on the front lines. 

[email protected]/ (585) 363-7275

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.” 

[email protected]/ (585) 363-7275

Lagoner Farms wins grant to support electrical expansion

Lagoner Farms in Williamson, Wayne County, has earned a $15,497 grant from Rochester Gas and Electric to upgrade electrical service and capacity for its continuing expansion.

The fifth-generation farm business sells fresh produce at farmers markets and its own farm store, but has recently diversified, expanding the store, adding wholesale outlets, taking on more farmers markets, turning over six acres to organic farming, and starting Embark Craft Ciderworks. In all, the business invested $276,000 for its expansions and needed greater electrical service to support the growth.

RG&E President and CEO Carl A. Taylor said, “While we offer financial support through various economic development programs, the Agriculture Capital Investment Incentive Program was created to assist companies like Lagoner Farms with upgrading their single- phase service to three-phase power in order to meet growing demand for their products.”  Three-phase service will allow the business to use more power at one time.

The utility company’s incentive program offers up to $100,000 to help with electric-related infrastructure improvements. The amount depends on how much the customer has invested and requires a capital investment of at least $50,000 toward facility and equipment purchases, according to Avangrid, the parent company of RG&E and New York State Electric and Gas.

[email protected]/(585) 363-7275

Schumer and Gillibrand question utilities on outages

U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand are putting New York power companies on the hot seat.

The senators sent a letter Tuesday to the president and CEO of New York State Electric and Gas and of Rochester Gas & Electric Corp., which are both owned by Avangrid, seeking answers about the handling of power restoration after last week’s wind storm.

Avangrid had reported as many as 130,000 customers lost power during the event that started on Wednesday. The company declared all customers’ electric service was restored by 6:15 p.m. Saturday, though it had previously provided much earlier estimates for restoration.

“It is our understanding that local officials were originally told it would not take more than 24 to 36 hours to fully restore power, which was inaccurate. Power was not fully restored until 72 hours after the storm” the senators’ letter to CEO Carl A. Taylor read.  “As you assess your response to the winter storms that have occurred across New York State, we urge you to look closely at the procedures you used to communicate with members of the public and with local officials, many of whom are relied upon to provide information and resources to the public. Inaccurate information that sets false expectations can have serious consequences for those who make decisions based upon when they expect power to be restored.”

Gillibrand and Schumer also asked for transparency about steps the utility companies take in a major storm event.

Avangrid did not respond immediately to a request for comment on the senators’ statement.

[email protected]/(585) 363-7275

Avangrid faces fines for windstorm response

Avangrid likely will face millions of dollars in state fines as a result of its utilities failing to follow their own emergency plans during the crippling windstorm of March 2017.

At the peak of the crisis, more than 170,000 customers of Rochester Gas & Electric Corp. and New York State Gas & Electric Corp. lost power. Schools and other institutions were closed for several days as a result of the outages.

The New York State Public Service Commission issued its determination on Thursday, Nov. 16, following an investigation into the response by Avangrid’s subsidiaries.

“It is critically important that utilities adhere to our rules and regulations, even more so when the safety of New Yorkers is at stake,” said Public Service Commission Chairman John B. Rhodes. “Given the findings, the commission will now consider financial penalties on the companies for their apparent failure to follow commission-approved emergency response plans.”

The commission said RG&E violated its approved response plan in eight areas, while NYSEG violated its plan in four areas. The commission staff made nearly 30 recommendations for improvement.

Avangrid issued a statement about the report, saying the two utilities are reviewing the findings and will respond as directed. “The unprecedented weather that resulted in the March windstorm posed great challenges to our communities, employees, contractors, assisting utilities, and municipal partners who all worked tirelessly to safely restore power to all customers,” the statement read.

The storm hit Western New York on March 8 and some electrical customers did not have power again until March 15. National Grid, another utility in the area, also lost power to 113,000 customers but had restored service to 90 percent of them within 36 hours, the commission said. National Grid is not being fined.

The report pointed to these violations in responses to the wind storm from Avangrid utilities:

  • Neither RG&E nor NYSEG fully secured downed wires within 36 hours.
  • Neither company followed requirements for updating the public on restoration times.
  • The companies didn’t communicate properly with customers on life-support equipment (though no one died or was harmed).
  • RG&E didn’t assess damage as early as it should have.
  • RG&E didn’t adequately update automated voice messages about storm conditions.
  • RG&E failed to make a priority list of critical facilities with outages to use in directing restoration.
  • RG&E’s call center wasn’t staffed at the proper emergency level.

New laws governing utilities’ emergency planning and response when into effect in 2013, prompted by widespread outages from Superstorm Sandy.

[email protected]/(585) 363-7275

Power outages reported

More than 30,000 electrical customers across the state and 1,250 in the Rochester area are without power as a result of wind and rain storms, according to a statement by Avangrid, the parent company of RG&E and New York State Electric & Gas.

In Rochester, outages along East Main Street and State Street were reported. Several Monroe County buildings were affected and county officials reported evacuating the Hall of Justice and City Place because of lack of lighting. Generators were being employed at the Monroe County Crime Lab, Public Safety Building and jail. Frontier Field was also without power.

By 2:30 p.m. county officials announced that the Hall of Justice, City Place and the Public Safety Building were closing for the rest of the day.

People with active court cases impacted by the closure of the Hall of Justice should visit www.nycourts.gov to check the status of their case before 7 Tuesday.

Additional outages were reported in Honeoye Falls.

Wayne County was experiencing more than 450 outages, with 377 alone in the town of Ontario. In Ontario County, a similar number of outages were reported, with most in Victor and East Bloomfield.

The Rochester area got off lightly compared to more southern communities, including Westchester  and Putnam counties, with approximately 9,000 outages each.

Avangrid said it would respond to downed power lines first, then trees and branches on power lines and, finally, repairing power lines causing the outages.  Customers may call (800) 743-1701 to report an outage.