ALBANY — A consumer watchdog group signaled this week it will oppose New York State Electric & Gas Corporation's request for a 23.7 percent increase in its electricity rates.
Richard Berkley, director of the Public Utility Law Project, told CNHI his organization will also urge state regulators to deny a 5.4 percent boost in electricity rates sought by Rochester Gas and Electric Corp.
The rate requests are now being reviewed by the state Public Service Commission, with a series of public forums now scheduled over the next several weeks.
Berkley said the NYSEG request is the largest utility rate hike request pending before regulators. If granted, the increase would be onerous for senior citizens living on fixed incomes, he said.
"People are not seeing that level of an increase in their pension or Social Security checks," he said.
NYSEG and RG&E are Avangrid subsidiaries. Avangrid is owned by Iberdrola, an international company with headquarters in Spain.
The companies said in the case opened by the PSC that they offer rates that are "among the lowest in New York" and that the requests would position them to make needed investments in electric and gas infrastructure.
Company representatives have also said they plan to strengthen their vegetation management efforts to counter the potential for damage to transmission lines during storms.
NYSEG is asking for an increase in its natural gas rates of 1.9 percent.
Four years ago, at the conclusion of its last rate case, NYSEG won approval for a 12.8 percent increase in electric rates over three years. The company also got the green light for a 23.5 percent increase in its natural gas rates in 2015.
At that same time, electric rate increases totaling 11.7 percent were phased in for RG&E customers, while RG&E natural gas customers saw a 15.6 percent increase.
NYSEG's service territory is spread across some 40 percent of the upstate New York region. The utility has about 881,000 electricity customers and about 263,000 natural gas customers.
RG&E has some 371,000 electricity customers and about 307,000 gas customers. It requested more modest increases in its electricity rates — 5.4 percent. RG&E is seeking a 4 percent increase in gas rates.
The increase sought by NYSEG for its electricity customers translates into a monthly increase of $10.17 on the average customer bill, according to the company's estimates.
The PSC said its "informational forums" on the rate proposals will be held Aug. 6 at Rochester City Hall; two meetings on August 14, one at Keene Valley Public Library, the other at Tompkins County Public Library in Ithaca; and August 15, at Binghamton City Hall.
The PSC said those wishing to comment on the rate proposals may also do so by emailing statements to the "Secretary of the Commission" at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mailing them to: Kathleen Burgess, Secretary, Public Service Commission, Three Empire State Plaza, Albany NY 12223-1350.
Finally, comments can also be provided over the telephone by contacting the commission at 1-800-335-2120.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com .