By: Gwendolyn Craig |
New York State Electric and Gas is seeking one of its largest rate increases in years, as it works to upgrade aging infrastructure, protect service from the effects of climate change and handle an ever-changing electric landscape.
The proposed increase, which has to be approved by the state Public Service Commission, is an average of $11.30 per month for electric and $2 per month for gas.
It’s a big ask for Carl Taylor, a Fort Ann native who was appointed CEO and president of NYSEG and Rochester Electric and Gas just two years ago.
But Taylor has an intensive list of reasons for the hike, and he hopes the investment will help customers in the long run. The company has also delayed the request, keeping rates the same in 2019.
Taylor said the rate case was filed with the state in May. The state will likely have a decision by April, at which point the potential new rates would go into effect.
NYSEG customers are scattered in the region. Taylor said there are customers in the areas of Granville and Salem, some in Saratoga County, and some in Essex County up through Plattsburgh.
National Grid is the main service provider in Warren, Washington and Saratoga counties, as well as most of Franklin and park of Essex and Hamilton counties. A spokesman for National Grid said the company is in the midst of its three-year rate plan and does not have any plans to open another rate case at this time.
Trees, resiliency and automation
In an interview with The Post-Star on Oct. 3, Taylor said there are a few key reasons for the “very large increase in this case.”
One is the growing problem of trees.
Unlike many other utility companies, NYSEG does not have a five-year tree and vegetation trimming program. With about $30 million a year currently devoted to vegetation management, NYSEG is only getting to about half of it.
As climate change brings more intense and more frequent storms, Taylor said trees falling on lines have become a bigger problem.
“We need $60 to $70 million a year to get a complete cycle trim at NYSEG alone, so it’s a very expensive proposition for that reliability that we’re looking to effect,” Taylor said. “That’s one of the largest drivers in this rate increase.”
A rate increase would also help the company with resiliency, which refers to upgrading the company’s circuits and infrastructure. He’d also like to add more automation to the system, so if a circuit is impacted during a storm, for example, it can isolate and protect part of the circuit that isn’t impacted.
Another upgrade Taylor hopes for is automated meter reading.
Currently, a NYSEG employee has to read a customer’s meter manually. The monthly bill, then, is an estimate of what was used, combined with the difference of whatever the previous month’s actual electricity usage was.
Switching to an automated reading would allow customers to see how much their electric bill is on a near-hourly basis.
By having that information at their fingertips, in an app or website on their phone, “consumers understand how they’re using power, when they’re using it, what’s using how much,” Taylor said.
The future of power
Taylor has had a front-row seat to the changing utility industry since he left Fort Ann High School for the Rochester Institute of Technology.
He graduated with an electrical engineering degree from there in 1987, and completed a work study with Pennsylvania Power and Light.
Later in 1987 he got his first gig at New York State Electric and Gas as an engineer. He moved his way up the line, now heading the utility company with service in 42 counties across the state.
“Although I thought we had big, monumental changes over the years … I think we’re in for probably as much change as we’ve seen in the past, today,” Taylor said.
Switching to more clean and renewable energy is one change NYSEG is tackling.
The newly passed state Climate Change and Community Protection Act, for example, requires electricity to be produced carbon-free by 2040.
NYSEG’s parent company, Avangrid, works extensively in the renewable energy sector, Taylor said, so NYSEG is looking at more ways to utilize wind, solar and methane-to-electricity projects and how to store energy from those things.
Storing energy from renewables is an increasing challenge, especially as consumers rely on even more electricity in their daily lives.
Taylor is gearing up for a future filled with electric vehicles, for example.
“These fast (car) chargers, they use a lot of power very quickly,” Taylor said. “The last thing we want is people to buy EVs (electric vehicles) and not be able to get access to the charging stations, so we don’t want to be behind that as a utility. On the other hand, we don’t want to just build it hoping they will come, either. As we’re spending consumer money, we don’t want to buy something that’s not going to be utilized.”
Combine the future with the regular upgrades needed to lines and poles, some of which were built in the ’50s and ’60s, there’s a lot of work to be done, and Taylor said he doesn’t take it lightly asking consumers for more money.
“It’s quite a transition we’re seeing here,” Taylor said. “The commitment is there by everyone, and it’s really about how do we get from where we are today, to where we need to be.”