FAIRMONT, W.Va. – The state Public Service Commission heard testimony this week from upset customers of Mon Power and Potomac Edison in connection with a PSC general investigation into the companies’ meter reading and billing practices. The fourth and final public hearing took place Friday morning in Fairmont.
PSC Communications Director Susan Small said the investigation was prompted by an upswing in complaints from customers.
“The customers of Potomac Edison and Mon Power have increased the number of complaints that they usually send in to the Commission. The commission in June decided to launch a general investigation, which is a wide sweeping investigation to see what the problems are,” she said.
Small added FirstEnergy, the parent corporation of both companies, is being required to submit customer service metrics to the PSC on a monthly basis, but they also want to hear from the customers.
Small said, based on complaints received, the problem is a billing issue rather than a rate issue.
“My bill is inconsistent, I’m getting estimated bills instead of actual bills,” are the most common complaints the PSC has heard, Small said.
The PSC requires that FirstEnergy use estimated bills no more than every other month. FirstEnergy recently made a number of changes to their billing processes, which caused some problems, but those were compounded by the derecho and Hurricane Sandy. As a result, many customers received multiple estimated bills.
“Between weather situations and the way that they changed their billing processes, many customers have received two, three, four, five estimated bills in a row,” Small said. “And unfortunately, a lot of those estimates have been very low, so when the true-up bill comes, all of a sudden, it’s much higher than the customer’s expecting.”
But, the PSC is working with FirstEnergy to resolve the issue, and the public hearings were part of the process.
“That’s what we’re working on now. One of the things they (the customer) can do is call the company and make sure that it’s an actual reading, that that’s actually what they owe, and if it’s more than they can handle right off, work out a deferred payment plan, sort of putting your arrearage on a budget plan so that you can pay it off over a number of months,” according to Small.
Mon Power gave a presentation at the public hearings in Fairmont showing how the billing issue came about and the steps they are taking to remedy the situation. Most customers who spoke at the hearing said their questions were answered during the presentation.
Mon Power Spokesman Todd Meyers said it all started with the derecho.
“That means if you were scheduled for an actual meter reading that month (when the derecho hit), then you got an estimate. And then the next month, because we need to keep following suit or things get too confusing, then if you were scheduled for an estimate, you’d get another estimate. And then, hurricane Sandy came, so some people who had been set up for an actual reading then, they were the same customers that didn’t get their actual reading during the derecho. So as you can see, these things start to snowball.”
Meyers said longer periods of time between actual meter readings gives rise to sticker shock.
“When you have too many estimates in a row, the estimation routine doesn’t work as well,” he said.
“And if you underestimated the amount of power for a number of months, and then you go do an actual reading it showed that people used a lot more during that time period, you have these larger bills.”
But, Meyers said, they are working to improve their estimated readings.
“We’re trying to improve the estimation, the logarithm, the routine so we can get a more accurate estimate.”
Meyers stressed that FirstEnergy wants to work with their customers to alleviate any problems they are having.
“One thing that I’ve got to stress that is very important, everyone’s situation with electricity is unique, with their properties, with their usage. So if people have a question they need to call us directly and work with us.”
Meyers said the number customers should call is 1-800-686-0022.
The PSC will next hold an evidentiary hearing in Charleston. A date for the hearing has not yet been scheduled.