Laurie Wheelock, an attorney with the Public Utility Law Project, speaks in opposition to the New York State Electric & Gas Corp. rate increase proposal at a public hearing in Binghamton on Aug. 15, 2019.

Six walk-in customer service centers across the New York State Electric & Gas and Rochester Electric & Gas service territory will be closed in the next two years under a proposal that awaits approval from the Public Service Commission.

The utility has been on a more than 20-year campaign to trim or close the number of customer service centers, but has usually met resistance from the state legislature following constituent complaints and as a result rejection from the Department of Public Service.

However, the current three-year rate agreement sets in motion the closure of centers from Lancaster to Liberty, and the significant reduction in hours at other centers from Sodus to Oneonta.

NYSEG and RG&E are closing six customer walk in centers and reducing hours of four others across the service territory. The Vestal center, pictured, is among six NYSEG centers that will remain open. (Photo: Jeff Platsky / Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulleton)

“We’re seeing a pretty significant reduction in office transactions,” said Michael Jamieson, spokesman for Avangrid, NYSEG and RG&E parent. “People just aren’t using them.”

To compensate for the closing, NYSEG and RG&E will establish procedures in which customers can arrange face-to-face meetings with customer service representatives, and as an alternative, will also have staff at social service offices in Monroe, Chenango, Erie, Ontario, Steuben and Sullivan counties at least twice a month.

Customers have reverted to contacting the company through the automated phone systems, the mobile app and the website, Jamieson said.

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The closings and shortened hours have come under fire from consumer advocates.

“They are still requesting to close six customer service offices, and to limit hours at four others,” said Sam Faduski, the Public Utility Law Project’s Western New York staff attorney, objecting to the settlement during public testimony.

Closings will begin in June 2021 and continue through 2022.

The three RG&E and three NYSEG offices to shut are: 

Hours at three NYSEG offices and one RG&E office will be reduced to 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. two days a week:

NYSEG five-day-a-week walk-in customer service will be reduced from 13 to six, with Vestal, Plattsburgh, Lockport, Auburn, Brewster and Geneva remaining open. Two Rochester walk-in centers will remain five day a week operations.

Foot traffic declines

Between 2015 and 2018, customer transactions declined by 62% in NYSEG customer service offices, and 73% at RG&E offices, according to Jamieson.

Customer service center closings are part of a three-year agreement. NYSEG customers will see a 24.5% increase in their electric delivery bill; RG&E, 13.3%.

Cost for the average NYSEG electric bill — 600 kilowatt hours — will increase $2.49 in year one, $4.13 in year two, and $5.54 in year three. For RG&E customers, the increase will be 37 cents in year one, $3.82 in year two, and $4.14 in year three.

By 2020, the average NYSEG delivery bill will rise to $57; it will be $60 for an RG&E customer, according to numbers supplied by the utilities.

Lower increases are planned in natural gas supply bills, with no increase in the first year for customers of both utilities. In NYSEG service territory, natural gas delivery bills will rise 0.8% in year two and 1.6% in year three. RG&E clients will see 0.3% increase in the second year, and a 1.3% in the third year. Cumulative dollar impact for the average customer is $1.75 over the three year term for NYSEG customers, and $1.03 for RG&E customers.

Jeff Platsky covers transportation and the economy for the USA TODAY Network New York. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter: @JeffPlatsky

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