Ut-oh, transmission project owners!While attending the Wisconsin Energy Action Fair in Mauston over the weekend, experienced transmission opponents from across the country gathered to compare notes, share experiences and tactics, and discuss strategy and national energy policy.
Online friendships and alliances were cemented together in person.Know what happens when you put a bunch of transmission opponents in a room together? It's the all-transmission-all-the-time gab fest, where we're all allowed to indulge in thought-provoking and laughter-inducing
conversations about our favorite subject that bores most of the other people we know: transmission!I suppose this could be considered the first of many national transmission opposition conventions, however, I'm not going to put my "The Importance of Strategic Planning in Grassroots Opposition" PowerPoint, or any summaries of any other speaker presentations, online. That's what transmission owners do. We're smarter! If you weren't there, you missed out!Many thanks to Rob, Jane, and all the friendly folks at SOUL for
being such gracious hosts and making the weekend worth the trip! Looking forward to the next event!
Alice isn't the only one to find herself tumbling into a rabbit hole where up is down and down is up and nothing is as it seems.While trying to do a radio program about FirstEnergy's Potomac Edison/Mon Power plant transfer this morning, I found it interesting that every person who called in mentioned Potomac Edison's recent unjust and unreasonable billing practices
. And then I sat down to pay a pile o' bills when I got home and guess what? There was my Potomac Edison bill. The company has been urging customers with questions about their bills to call the customer service center, so I did.Forty minutes later, I still didn't have logical answers to my questions. I can only imagine how customers who have received astronomical bills they cannot pay must feel after an hour in Potomac Edison's "valued customer" funhouse.First, I had to verify that I actually was a customer because my name supposedly isn't on the bill. Now, we know that's just not true, don't we?
I guess that must be a common mistake, right, Randy?After the first customer service rep.
and I determined that the cause of my budget plan billings being inconsistent was Potomac Edison's lack of meter reading over the past year, it was suggested that I begin reading my own meter on those months that Potomac Edison can't make it to my house. I was assured that Potomac Edison attempts to read meters EVERY MONTH, however they are only required to read them twice a year. After being informed that was complete and utter crap, she further insisted that Potomac Edison's WV tariff required only two readings per year and began to argue with me. When I suggested she check her information with her supervisor, I got dumped onto hold for 29 minutes without explanation. TWENTY-NINE minutes! I guess I was supposed to hang up and go away, but I simply turned on the speaker and set the phone on my desk while I tackled the 472 emails that had piled up while I was away.
Oh... and I was highly entertained by Potomac Edison's hold muzak play list, which I have noted to share with you.... song by hysterical song:
You've got a friend
Still the sameTight ropeSister golden hair
Carefree highwayGood day sunshineAnd here's where it got really hysterical...How long (has this been going on)Rocket man (and I think it's gonna be a long, long time)
Operator (could you help me place this call)And just when I was starting to wonder what was coming next
, "the supervisor" picked up the line and was not surprised in the least to find that I had been waiting 29 minutes and no one had bothered to tell her why I was calling.At least she verified that Potomac Edison is required to read meters every other month according to their WV tariff and that the first customer service rep. was wrong. I wasn't convinced that the supervisor actually would correct this misconception, however. I guess it really doesn't matter how much Potomac Edison lies to you when you call for assistance.However, while also verifying that my inconsistent bills were the product of Potomac Edison failing to read my meter, even she couldn't tell me why my new (APP) Summary
only included 4 months while my neighbor's included 12. Or why last month's bill was much higher for less kwh. Apparently all my problems will be over if I only read my own meter from now on. Right.
Potomac Edison is also renumbering work routes; meaning meter-readers will work in close proximity.
"That way if I finish my route, I can come over and help you finish your route. That should help prevent some estimates on the back-end of your route, where we couldn't get to a customer," says Todd Meyers, Potomac Edison spokesperson.
Well, color me steamed! I invited Todd to come read my meter last year
, and he still hasn't "finished his route" and arrived to do his job.If you haven't seen Todd at your house either, be sure to contact him and let him know you need him to finish his route:
Maryland – Potomac Edison
West Virginia – Mon Power, Potomac Edison
Pennsylvania – West Penn Power
(724) 838-6650email: email@example.comWhat does Todd mean "help me finish my route?" I don't have a route! Is Todd insinuating that I should be reading my own meter from now on, aka "my route?" But that's what I'm paying you to do, Todd!I'm also paying you to trim trees and maintain your equipment. That's not news. And sadly, yesterday's little drama was just that -- a play staged for the media. Oh, look at us working today!
Big stinkin' deal! This hole is much, much deeper than Potomac Edison thinks.So, what has Todd been doing with the money we've been paying him for years? Todd has a lot to answer for. This is all Todd's fault!
Go ahead, give him a call!
On April 9, 2013, the Maryland Public Service Commission opened an official investigation
into FirstEnergy subsidiary Potomac Edison's meter reading, usage estimation and billing practices.
The Commission hereby initiates an investigation into PE’s meter reading frequency, estimation of bills, and compliance with its Tariff, and delegates this matter to the Public Utility Law Judge Division (“PULJD”) for appropriate proceedings.
The investigation into PE’s meter reading frequency, estimation of bills, and compliance with its Tariff is not limited to the Tufts and Sugarloaf Conservancy Complaints; the PULJD shall determine the full scope of the investigation, and designate additional issues as appropriate. The PULJD shall notify the parties, including the Office of People’s Counsel, of the date and time of a scheduling conference at which deadlines are to be set for, inter alia, PE’s production of documents. The Commission hereby initiates an investigation into PE’s meter reading frequency, estimation of bills, and compliance with its Tariff, and delegates this matter to the Public Utility Law Judge Division (“PULJD”) for appropriate proceedings.
The investigation into PE’s meter reading frequency, estimation of bills, and compliance with its Tariff is not limited to the Tufts and Sugarloaf Conservancy Complaints; the PULJD shall determine the full scope of the investigation, and designate additional issues as appropriate. The PULJD shall notify the parties, including the Office of People’s Counsel, of the date and time of a scheduling conference at which deadlines are to be set for, inter alia, PE’s production of documents.
For more than thirty years, Potomac Edison's Maryland tariffs have provided that the
Company will read most meters every two months. This practice saves customers money, because fewer meter readers need to be used. For example, in Potomac Edison's last rate case in 1994, the expense filed for meter reading was just under $1.3 million for meter reading; if meters were going to be read every month, that requirement would have had to be significantly higher.
Footnote: In fact, even with reading every two months instead of monthly, the Company was spending $2.0 million on meter reading (even without taking into consideration the new hires and other recent measures discussed elsewhere in this response), substantially more than is collected in rates for this function.
Potomac Edison has been losing money on its meter reading function to the tune of $700,000 per year. This could be easily remedied by filing a new rate case with the Maryland PSC to collect this difference. However, the filing of a new rate case could also cause Potomac Edison to lose substantially more than $700,000 per year by setting a new rate of return for the company. The rate of return that the company is allowed to earn on fixed costs in Maryland is currently set at 11.9%, and is the second highest ROE in FirstEnergy's distribution affiliate stable
. If Potomac Edison filed a new rate case, the ROE would be updated and adjusted to today's financial realities. It is in FirstEnergy's financial interest to continue to collect rates set in the 1993/1994 settlement. If it were not, the company would file a new rate case. It has not done so.The annual loss on meter reading expense compared to the risk to ROE stemming from a new rate case was a loss Allegheny Energy was willing to accept. But when Allegheny Energy merged with FirstEnergy, apparently that was no longer true. FirstEnergy wanted the best of both worlds -- collection of the full amount of meter reading costs AND the 1993/94 rate case ROE. But because FirstEnergy couldn't collect more for meter reading AND maintain an 11.9% ROE, FirstEnergy opted to simply cut the cost of meter reading by slimming down their meter reading staff and not performing scheduled meter readings required by law. If Potomac Edison cut their meter reading expense to match the amount they were collecting, the loss would stop and the company could keep its 11.9% ROE, having its cake and eating it too!But now it appears the game is up. If I were the Maryland PSC, I would
require Potomac Edison to issue a refund to customers amounting to the difference between what Potomac Edison spent and what it would have cost to perform meter readings as required by law (around $700K per year, according to Potomac Edison.) And then, as a punitive measure, I would make them file a new rate case. :-) How about it, FirstEnergy?
FirstEnergy has also been pulling the same stunt in other states in which it operates. West Virginia's ROE is 10.5% and was set in 2007. Pennsylvania's ROE is 11.5% set in 1994. These jurisdictions are where FirstEnergy affiliates have also been failing to read meters. Coincidence? I think not.West Virginia legislators are not happy with Potomac Edison's excuses
. Could an investigation by the West Virginia PSC also be on the horizon?
Just how important is the PSC's approval of FirstEnergy's plan to sell its Harrison coal plant from its competitive Ohio affiliate to its uncompetitive West Virginia affiliates Mon Power and Potomac Edison?I dunno, but I think FirstEnergy just shelled out $1.25M to meet the demands of the UWUA 304
in exchange for a letter from UWUA to the WV PSC supporting the plant sale
Must be pretty important then. In that case, I suggest that all struggling industry or citizen groups (if you don't have a group, you can just make one up!) get aboard the shakedown train and sell their advocacy to FirstEnergy. It's like growing your own money tree!!*I'm not going to beat the union up about their deal with the devil. They're just regular guys trying to make a living and FirstEnergy had been giving them a royal screwing.What I do find absolutely hilarious though is how the threat of cozying up with StopPATH and Calhoun Powerline was
used by the union to get its way. Scaring FirstEnergy is our specialty. Glad we could help ;-)However the plant sale is STILL a bad idea. I'm sure the union guys would much rather work at a plant that's financially subsidized by Mon Power and Potomac Edison customer
s than a plant owned by Allegheny Generation which is subject to the vagaries of competitive electric markets, and whose future is uncertain. Can't blame them for wanting job security.
But this plant sale will cost electric consumers over a billion dollars. There are only 150 union guys but there are half a million Mon Power and Potomac Edison customers. Be sure to let the WV PSC know that you do not support the plant sale. Just click here
. (submit comment on Formal Case and be sure to type in Case No. 12-1571-E-PC) *(click here for FirstEnergy advocacy recruitment website to see how much your advocacy is worth to the company!)
It's been almost nine months since FirstEnergy subsidiary "Potomac Edison" wrote a nine page fairy tale to the Maryland Public Service Commission about its failure to read electric meters in Maryland
, and it's been at least a year since customers began openly complaining about the company's meter reading and billing practices. However, FirstEnergy subsidiaries Potomac Edison, Mon Power and West Penn Power still
haven't gotten it right.In fact,
a new wave of unhappy customers is about to crash upon FirstEnergy's affiliate shores.West Penn Power customers in Pennsylvania are unhappy with the company's failure to read meters in a timely fashion in accordance with state law."David Kline from FirstEnergy talked to the Waynesboro Borough Council on Wednesday about complaints about power bills having estimated meter readings several months in a row.
When Allegheny Energy merged with FirstEnergy two years ago, there were not many immediate changes, Kline said. However, computer systems and meter-reading policies started changing about a year ago, he said."Right... those "policies" are just some of the "merger synergies" customers are receiving from the ill-advised Allegheny Energy/FirstEnergy merger in 2011. The "policies" save this poorly managed company the operations cost of paying a meter reading staff
a living wage, and as the company has stated many times, attempts to reduce its operating costs continue
as it struggles to stay afloat.Recently, a new scheme has emerged -- failure to bill Potomac Edison customers in a timely fashion.
"I, as I expect most of you, budget as closely as possible to the money coming in. It is the only way to function in this day of continuing rising costs and non-rising paychecks. When I saw that the bill had not come, I called the friendly customer service line and was told Potomac Edison was changing their billing cycle and I should receive my statement in about three weeks.
Not once did Potomac Edison inform me ahead of time that there was a change coming in billing cycles. Now I have received the statement which includes a month and about three-quarters of another month because the statements went out later than they used to. That has jumped my bill by a significant amount and we pay on the monthly budget plan!"Without warning, customers are facing electric bills nearly double usual amounts, even customers who signed up for the company's "budget" plan which is supposed to average yearly usage and bill monthly so that your bill remains constant year round, no matter how much electricity you use. Even though you are receiving two months worth of billing, Potomac Edison isn't giving you two months to pay. Oh no, the entire balance is due right now.The giggly "look at how incompetent we are" excuses from Potomac Edison, Mon Power and West Penn Power
are wearing paper thin by now. It's been a year since the problems started. Instead of remedies, customers are being further injured by unjust and unreasonable billing practices. Is it really corporate incompetence, or is it a sign of corruption? You decide.
Holy plagiarism, Batman! I ended up with a copy of Grain Belt Express Clean Line's "Code of Conduct" for Right-of-Way Agents and Subcontractors
in my email today.This silly document is nothing but window dressing masquerading as "proof" that Clean Line's land sharks are following some sort of moral compass.
This document does nothing to stop land shark abuse of landowners. Who's supposed to enforce it? Nobody! What are the penalties or legal remedies for violation? There aren't any! It's your word against theirs.This document has an interesting history. Notice how it's written to supposedly prohibit certain behaviors? Does the specificity of certain tactics seem a bit odd to you? That's because each one of these land agent no-nos was a tactic actually perpetrated on landowners in Pennsylvania by land agents for TrAILCo. This "Code of Conduct" came into existence through a court battle fought by the Pennsylvania Office of the Consumer Advocate, who is tasked with representing the interests of consumers, who had been victim to these very same land agent tactics. In its original form, it was enforceable by the Pennsylvania authorities. In its current incarnation, it's not worth the paper it's printed on. It's mere suggestion that is more for the landowner's benefit as an imaginary security blanket than it is a set of rules for Clean Line's land sharks.The "Code" was re-used by TrAILCo's parent company for their subsequent PATH project. Turned out that the West Virginia PSC wasn't interested in enforcing it, therefore, the document was worthless. PATH land sharks violated it constantly, according to affected landowners.And now Clean Line has plagiarized this document from PATH, thinking it will fool a whole new crop of rubes in the midwest
. Not. It's even complete with the same PATH-created typos... what a bunch of idiots you are, Clean Line!!So, what's your best defense? Refuse to speak or interact with Clean Line land sharks without the assistance of your attorney and insist that all conversations be recorded. You'll still have to pursue any "violations" through civil court, but I have a feeling the land sharks won't be so willing to star in your own personal video production
and will avoid you and your camera or tape recorder like a.... plague of bolt weevils, perhaps?
It's not rocket science. The longer the distance between generation and load, the more unreliable the "grid" becomes. Long haul transmission lines provide opportunity for all sorts of failure... or mischief.Apparently the Chinese military is hard at work compromising the security of the U.S. electric grid. No big surprise. Investor-owned utilities don't want to waste precious shareholder pennies on silly stuff like cybersecurity
when there are memberships to The Duquesne Club
to be purchased instead!No matter how much the industry insists that it can regulate itself on the honor system, there is no honor among thieves. Looks like Congress is going to have to intervene and bestow authority to FERC to regulate cybersecurity of the grid.
Just imagine how much this is going to cost when the obvious solution is so much cheaper and quicker -- stop "expanding" the grid and making it more vulnerable. We don't need a whole bunch of new transmission, and a bigger, more interconnected grid exposes larger and larger geographic areas to one massive failure instigated by the click of a single key somewhere in China.Thanks, Jimmy!