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Utility rates investigation

Rochester, N.Y. --- Your utility bill is up this winter; that is almost a certainty. The cold weather and long winter are certainly one reason but U.S. Senator Charles Schumer is calling for an investigation to determine if that is the only reason.

Right now I'm only paying $150 but I still owe on it and that happened the last two months, said Miguel Ortiz of Rochester who was paying his bill in chunks on Thursday. "Now all of a sudden we had just one year (of) bad weather, now they want to zoom it up a little bit too much I think.

Across the state Sen. Schumers Office cited media reports that show rates increasing anywhere from 10% to more than 60% this winter. Rochester Gas & Electric (RG&E) rates are up, on average, about 15% according to the media reports Schumers Office cited.

"Consumers are getting what you might call electric rate sticker shock when they open up their electric bills this month, Schumer told 13WHAM News on Thursday. Economists say that electric rates are whats called sticky, when the price of natural gas goes up the rates go right up. When the price of natural gas goes down the rates go very slowly down and this investigation might help them go down quicker too.

The Pizza Stop in Downtown Rochester offers us an example of how rates are on the rise. Each work day owner Jim Staffieri believes his popular lunch spot uses the same amount of energy.

"We're open the same hours every day, we don't stay open late, we turn everything on at the same time and we turn everything off at the same time, we should be using roughly the same electricity, explained Staffieri.

Yet a look at his bills the last three months shows a steady increase in the electricity costs. In January it was $134, but March it was $195.

We are definitely going up," said Staffieri. I suspect that they (utility companies) are always out to get you, one way or another so I would only expect us to get robbed somehow.

While RG&E is the name on the bill, company spokesman Daniel Hucko points out that RG&E is simply the messenger and bearer of bad news.

"The increase comes from the energy supply, RG&E bills are made up of two main components there is the supply price and there is the delivery charge, explained Hucko. So RG&E makes its money from delivering energy to your home using our pipes, our wires and those are the rates that we charge you to do that. Those rates are regulated by the PSC and our last increase of rates was in September 2012.

As for the increased electricity rate, Hucko points the finger at power producers or suppliers. He explained that RG&E buys the power its customers need in the open market and all the vendors are charging more for power this winter.

"All the increases are coming from the power producers and that's where the problem lies, said Hucko. Customers who are seeing these large increases in their bill can basically blame it on market forces. There has been a huge demand increase in electricity this year, this winter has been very long and very cold, people are using a lot of electricity (and) when the demand goes up, price goes up, people have to pay. Unfortunately, as you said, we're the bearer of bad news.

Sen. Schumer said that if the Federal Trade Commission finds price-gauging there is the possibility that customers receive a refund.

Hucko said that any customer who needs help paying their bill should contact the company as they often work with customers in such circumstances. Additional advice on how to save energy and pay less is available on the companys website:

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Washington Times