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Rochester Regional Health one step closer to clean energy goal

Rochester Regional Health expects to save more than $220,000 a year through a community solar program with Nexamp. The program will support the expansion of clean energy resources at Rochester Regional Health’s facilities while also sharing the benefits with the community.

RRH has set a goal of sourcing all of its electricity through renewable sources by 2025. The organization is combining community solar with its own on-site solar, energy efficiency measures and other initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint.

“We know that hospitals and clinics use much more energy than a typical business, and we have made a conscious decision to manage our resources carefully so that we can ensure a healthy environment and create a more sustainable community,” said Mike Waller, director of sustainability for RRH. “The ability to complement our on-site solar with a community solar agreement gives us the opportunity to offset energy usage at our many sites across the region, while also providing a green energy option for our neighbors.”

Nexamp operates dozens of community solar farms across New York state. As an anchor off-taker, Rochester Regional Health will receive a larger portion of the credit from each project, with individual residential subscribers taking the rest.

“The community solar program in New York makes it possible to increase the generation of clean energy and share those benefits with both business and residents,” said David Wells, director of community solar in New York for Nexamp. “We are focused on helping all energy users achieve sustainability and cost savings in parallel. Distributed generation of clean solar energy from the sun is meeting the needs of communities and is an important step in the de-carbonization of our society moving forward.”

Initially, Rochester Regional Health will receive credit for 9.7 MW from five projects located in Rochester Gas & Electric, National Grid and New York State Electric and Gas service territories. The clean energy generated at these projects is fed directly to the local utility grid and Rochester Regional Health receives credit for the value of that energy on its regular electric bills, helping to lower its costs while offsetting its use of electricity from traditional sources.

Three community solar farms in Spencerport will provide solar credits to Rochester General Hospital, Unity Hospital and St. Mary’s Campus. A community solar farm in Lockport will provide solar credits to United Memorial Medical Center in Batavia and a community solar farm in Ghent, Columbia County, will provide solar credits to Clifton Springs Hospital & Clinic and Newark-Wayne Community Hospital.

Officials noted that with no up-front investment, long-term commitment or equipment to install, community solar is equally accessible to all homeowners or renters, independent of income or credit history. For businesses such as hospitals, manufacturers, retailers and others, community solar is ideal because it can be used on its own or paired with on-site solar generation to further reduce environmental impact.

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Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Online meeting planned for proposed utility rate hike

Rochester People’s Climate Coalition (RPCC) is organizing an online meeting on Thursday to discuss a rate increase proposed by Rochester Electric & Gas (RG&E) and New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG).

The event will help participants prepare to comment at an upcoming New York State Public Service Commission hearing on the utility’s proposed rate increase.

The Commission will hold virtual public hearings on Aug. 26 and 27 and comments can also be made online, by email, phone and by U.S. mail.

RPCC has been involved over the past year as an intervener in the utility’s rate case. In June, RG&E/NYSEG filed a proposed settlement agreement.

RPCC sees promising and problematic features in the proposal, including a plan to raise electric rates during a pandemic.

RPCC’s online meeting is set for 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday to help citizens in RG&E and NYSEG territories get oriented to the rate case, assist them in registering for the public hearings, and to guide them to other feedback opportunities.

To join the meeting, register online at: This page also includes extensive information about the case and all the public input opportunities and options.

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.”

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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. 

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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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Utility rate hike request gets heated response at Rochester hearing

Two local power companies and the state agency that regulates them caught fire from residents attending a rate hike hearing Tuesday afternoon. 

Some people who attended the hearing held at Rochester’s City Hall by the New York State Public Service Commission were angry that Rochester Gas & Electric Corp. and the New York State Electric and Gas Corp. are raising rates again. Others claimed the PSC had failed to do its duty to protect citizens, especially those who have low incomes. And many said the utilities need to do a better job of investing in renewable energy and encouraging conservation in order to stop climate change.  

Chanting and clapping sometimes held up the hearing and the administrative judge overseeing it had to remind people of the rules. 

 The hearing Tuesday afternoon drew about 100 people and 40 who signed up to make a statement on the utilities’ proposed rate hike. A second hearing was held Tuesday evening, with more scheduled for three other venues around the state later this month. 

NYSEG is asking for increases that would result in $10.17 more for electricity and $1.05 more for gas each month for the typical residential customer. RGE is seeking an additional $2.86 for electricity and $1.56 for gas each month. Clearing line-damaging vegetation and making other investments were the main reasons behind the rate request, utility spokesmen said.  

Joseph Syta, vice president, regulatory, for utility parent company Avangrid, told the group that RGE hasn’t received approval for a rate increase since 2015, but he later added that the outcome of that rate case was that increases would come in three installments, the last of which took place in April 2018. 

Many of the people making statements said RG&E and NYSEG already charge too much just to supply the power, regardless of usage. That practice falls particularly hard on low-income customers, they said. 

“Why do our rates have to increase for RG&E to do their job?” asked Jasmine Raggler of Rochester. She said her most recent bill was $73.09 and only $14.78 was for actual electricity and gas. In four years a meter reader has never come to her home, she said, yet she pays a monthly fee for meters. She even pays 76 cents a month to cover being billed, a charge that multiplied by all of the utility’s customers means they’re taking in $3.5 million annually just to send customers their bills, she said. 

Kate Kressman-Kehoe, a filmmaker from Rochester who has focused on climate change, said, “This is a climate crisis and this is an opportunity to have an impact for decades.” She urged the utility to invest in a more resilient power grid and green energy, fix methane leaks (from natural gas) and phase out the use of fossil fuels.

Jerome Underwood, president and CEO of Action for a Better Community, said “To do no harm is reasonable,” but a rate hike will particularly harm low-income people, who are disproportionately people of color. Homeownership remains out of reach of many people of color, due to systemic racism, Underwood said, and high utility rates contribute to that.  

Utility costs, including long-term payment plans that have people paying thousands of dollars in utility bills over a decade to try to catch up are “once again a downward push on folks trying to stay afloat,” Underwood said. 

The hearing, presided over by Administrative Judge Michelle Phillips from Albany, was not structured to provide responses to the statements from ratepayers. Two PSC commissioners, James Alesi of East Rochester and Diane Burman of the Albany area, attended the hearing. Later in the day, Avangrid released a statement reiterating its reasoning for a rate increase request. 

Severe weather events, which have greatly impacted both service areas, have increased both in severity and frequency. Together, the companies experienced 165 major storms between 2012 and 2018, leading to regular customer outages. The filings seek to address this by making the investments necessary to provide customers with a more reliable and resilient electric system. Likewise, it also seeks to implement a comprehensive vegetation management program to address the impact that overgrown trees have on system reliability. More than half of RG&E and NYSEG’s combined outages are caused by trees or branches contacting wire and other electric equipment. If approved, the plans would help reduce the number of customers that experience outages and assist in expediently restoring power after a significant event,” the statement read. 

Several speakers asked the PSC to cut the utilities’ base rates, saying $28 a month is the highest in the state. They also urged the PSC to exempt households for a hike if their earnings are at 250 percent of the poverty level or lower.

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Electric and gas rate hike hearings scheduled for Tuesday

Hearings will be held Tuesday in downtown Rochester on rate increases being proposed by Rochester Gas and Electric Corp. and New York State Electric & Gas Corp.

The hearings are scheduled for 1:30 and 6 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at Rochester’s City Hall, 30 Church Street. At each hearing – as well as others scheduled for other parts of the state – an administrative law judge will preside and the utility companies will offer an explanation for the increase request. Periods for public comment will begin at 2:30 p.m. for the afternoon session, and 7 p.m. for the evening hearing.

According to a posting from the New York State Public Service Commission, which oversees state utilities, estimated increases in average residential bills would be:

  • $2.86 a month for RG&E electric customers
  • $1.56 a month for RG&E gas customers
  • $10.17 a month for NYSEG electric customers
  • $1.05 a month in for NYSEG gas customers.

PSC said the utilities, which are both subsidiaries of international conglomerate Avangrid, are asking for increases based predominantly on the need to manage vegetation, but they also listed increased operating expenses, depreciation and infrastructure investments among their reasons.

A local environmental group, Rochester People’s Climate Coalition has launched a campaign to urge fellow rate payers to use their testimony to push the utility company toward greener forms of energy production.

“RG&E/NYSEG continue to expand gas infrastructure and incentivize fossil fuel-based technologies, moving us away, not toward, meeting NY State’s newest goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. Green energy and clean technologies are available, effective, and necessary to protect our climate,” read a statement the group had prepared on the hearings.

Efforts to reach an Avangrid spokesperson for comment were unsuccessful.

People who wish to speak at the hearings don’t need to make an appointment ahead of time. They are limited to three minutes and may also provide a written copy of their comments if they wish. Others who cannot attend the scheduled hearings may provide testimony online, by phone or in writing by Aug. 26. Information on how to do that is available at the PSC’s website.

Additional hearings will be held in Keene Valley, Essex County, and Ithaca Aug. 14, and in Binghamton Aug. 15

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NYSEG penalized for reliability issues

New York State Electric & Gas Corp. this week received a penalty of $3.5 million from the state for reliability issues related to outages in 2018.

The New York State Public Service Commission announced it was deducting a total of $6 million from the amounts several utilities can charge their customers, all because of similar issues.

NYSEG was the only utility penalized in Western New York, and received the largest penalty of the four because of number and duration of outages.

“While most utilities are doing a good job providing safe and reliable service, four utilities have fallen short of our expectations in certain areas and we will continue to act aggressively to ensure utilities improve performance”, said Commission Chair John B. Rhodes. “Additionally, as a result of this analysis, it is clear that utilities must be ready to address more frequent and powerful storms.”

2018 saw more power outages than all the years in the last 20 with the exception of two, the PSC said. Last year was third behind 2011, with Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, and 2012, with Hurricane Sandy.

NYSEG and one other utility failed to meet some reliability metrics, the PSC said. Other than major storms, which accounted for 80 percent of outage hours last year, outages have declined, the PSC said.

NYSEG did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the penalty.

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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.

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Power restoration promised to last few thousand customers today

Approximately 3,230 customers in the Rochester area remained without power Friday morning as thousands of utility repair crews continued to work on restoring power.

A windstorm on Wednesday with gusts exceeding 60 miles per hour had knocked power out to many tens of thousands more across the state. Downed trees closed many streets and pulled down power lines. The wind also toppled several tractor-trailer trucks, resulting in a temporary ban on commercial traffic in Monroe County to prevent further accidents.

National Grid, which had perhaps 240 customers in this region still without power Friday morning, pushed back its restoration time to noon Friday.

Monroe County, serviced mostly by Rochester Gas & Electric, still had 2,164 customers without power Friday morning; Wayne County, which is powered by RG&E and New York State Electric and Gas, had 721 customers out.

Avangrid, the parent company of both RG&E and NYSEG, was promising 100 percent restoration by 11:45 a.m.

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Wind whips up power outages

arrow-black-and-white-clouds-552600Owing to gusting winds as high as 60 miles per hour, Monroe Count Executive Cheryl Dinolfo declared a state of emergency Wednesday afternoon, banning commercial traffic in high-profile vehicles until 8 p.m.

Those tall vehicles are particularly susceptible to tipping in strong winds. Sheriff Todd Baxter said three tractor-trailers had tipped. Two of those incidents occurred on highways, one closing down the intersection of I-390 and I-590, he said.

The winds were expected to subside after sundown.

The wind caused havoc with tree branches and many things that weren’t firmly attached to the ground Wednesday, putting some 10,345 Rochester Gas & Electric Corp. customers in Monroe County had lost power before 2 p.m.  That number rose to 14,187 just before 4 p.m.

In Erie County, 23,525 New York State Electric and Gas Corp. customers were without before 2 p.m., but then the outages started declining there. Anticipating the storm, power companies had moved extra repair crews into their service areas Tuesday.

Greece and Perinton were leading municipalities in Monroe County for outages, with more than 2,000 each. Next were Rochester, Chili, Pittsford, and Ogden, with between 1,100 and nearly 1,700 outages.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service posted high-wind warnings until 11 p.m. Wednesday, with gusts as high as 60 miles per hour.

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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.

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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 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.