FirstEnergy's continued cuts to operating expenses (more were announced just the other day
) have now opened the door for scammers to take advantage of the company's customers.Read this report by Potomac Edison Customer Danny Lutz:
At about 0840 hours this morning, I observed a white SUV with a Virginia Vanity plate OHAPY DZ in my front yard. The vehicle had a portable orange flashing light affixed to the right front rain gutter.
Upon checking, the individual, clad in a black pullover shirt, and black knee top Speedo type shorts, waived an electronic device at me. He stated he was from the power company and was there to read the meters. (This is the "uniform" of street thugs, burglars, muggers, MS 13.... keep picking them.)
The gentleman showed nothing to confirm his position with Potomac Edison, nor did he identify himself.
I allowed him to complete his errand. Then I asked him if Potomac Edison is requiring meter readers to use their personal vehicles when making their rounds.
He stated that "Since the merger, everything is all screwed up, and I have to use my vehicle."
Imagine the scams that could be perpetrated upon the unknowing of all ages by people posing as meter readers. I do not know if my premises were cased for a later visit for less than legal purposes.
I very much should like to know what explanation Potomac Edison has for this modus operandi. Could not Potomac Edison hire someone from West Virginia to read West Virginia meters?
I politely suggest that in addition to being more vigilant over your own properties, you should watch for and warn your neighbors, especially those living alone, elderly, or incapacitated.
Danny later reports:
After an interminable number of attempts, I finally breached FORTRESS FIRST ENERGY and reached TODD MEYERS, in house apologist.
I gave him the same description of the events of 0840 hours yesterday morning.
He offered the explanation that some meter reading personnel hired since 1 April 2013 may not have Potomac Edison Vehicles.
Meyers stated that those using personal vehicles "should" have a magnetic door sign identifying the vehicle as representing Potomac Edison. (This vehicle had no such signage.) He further asked if any ID BADGE was displayed. (None was) Meyers stated that the reader should have been wearing a lime green safety vest.(He was not.)
He kept repeating "You've given me good enough information. I can investigate this. I will call the meter reader and find out what is going on."
It took me eight calls plus a boat load of web searches to finally get to Meyers.
The last two individuals who came here to read the meter, months ago, drove pick ups and wore white helmets and lime green safety vests.
I will be curious to see what comes from this belated effort.
If Potomac Edison would use local people from the areas to be served, some of these issues might need never arise. Though local people cannot know everyone, they are able to be more easily identified.
And finally, Danny got tired of waiting for a reply from Meyers:
Just had an enlightening conversation with Todd Meyers "Public Relations Specialist with FIRST ENERGY." (That is how Mr. Meyers described his capacity with FIRST ENERGY in our conversation a few minutes ago.)
I was able to contact the gentleman on the first call, and he doubtless saw who I am from the caller ID. He clearly did not want to talk to me.
I had to give him another synopsis of the issues of 7 August 2013.
In a stumbling, hesitating voice, Mr. Meyer stated that he had checked with the Supervisor of the meter reading and found that, indeed, the vehicle and the person are engaged in reading meters for Potomac Edison. He stated that this was determined by conversing with that supervisor from "the information which you supplied, that is the white vehicle with the O HAPPY DAYS (sic) Virginia plate." (Actual plate is OHAPY DZ.).
Meyers further stated that he had learned that the individual in question had displayed an ID, was wearing a green vest, and had magnetic signs on the door of the vehicle.
I asked who was the source of his information, and he was reluctant to tell me, giving a rambling and convoluted answer which I shall not try to duplicate here.
Meyers went on "That's what I was told happened."
I asked "Might I ask who is the supervisor of the meter reading for this area?"
Meyers replied "That is Charity Emmert in the Williamsport office."
I said "Could you provide me with an email for you and Ms. Emmert that I may inform you, Ms. Emmert, and Potomac Edison that that person is not welcome on my property again for any reason? It appears that person has been less than truthful in this matter."
MEYERS "You can send the email to me at tmeyer1energy.com, I will see that she gets it. I will forward it to where it needs to go,"
I suspect that TOADIE MEYERS did not do anything with my complaint, and was surprised to have his bluff called in this manner.
Nice going, Todd! The fake email address adds just the right touch to your bumbling attempts to satisfy this customer.
Why aren't Potomac Edison's meter readers wearing uniforms and driving company trucks? Because those things cost money! FirstEnergy's cost cutting now allows any person to pretend to be a meter reader, even those with ulterior motives. How easy would it be to buy a lime green vest, a blinking light and a fake magnetic sign in order to go door-to-door to see who's home... or not?
Danny is not a liar. FirstEnergy needs to provide a staff of professional meter readers, not unidentified people driving anonymous vehicles and waving electronic devices. If you have a question about an unidentified person trespassing on your property that you suspect may be a Potomac Edison meter reader (or someone posing as one), do not approach. Call Todd and ask him to identify the person 724 838 6650.
Don't you just love that headline? Hopefully the first of many well-deserved slaps upside the head for this crooked company.Yesterday, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) ordered that FirstEnergy refund $43.3M to its Ohio distribution affiliates' customers within 60 days.
The PUCO found that Ohio Edison Company, The Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company, and The Toledo Edison Company had grossly overpaid for renewable energy credits purchased from their own FirstEnergy Solutions affiliate and then recovered these exorbitant costs from consumers. In other words, FirstEnergy bought something from itself that was overpriced.That's the good news. Now for the bad news.FirstEnergy has vowed to appeal the decision. Any refunds due to customers will thus be held until the appeals process has exhausted itself. FirstEnergy intends to continue to pour millions into avoiding refunds due to struggling electric consumers, and if they are successful, consumers will end up footing the bill for the cost of that too, adding insult to injury. How long will FirstEnergy deny the consumers their refund? Maybe forever.This whole thing smacks of a badly executed bit of play acting by PUCO and FirstEnergy executives. Everyone knows that FirstEnergy has stacked PUCO with its bought and paid for "yes" men. This investigation has been going on for years. A decision was expected last week, but PUCO delayed it a week "to allow time to fine tune an order addressing whether the Akron-based utility overpaid for renewable energy credits and passed those excess costs on to customers."
Fine tuning my eye, the decision was delayed until AFTER FirstEnergy's 2Q Earnings Call on Tuesday
so that FirstEnergy's executives wouldn't have to suffer through questions about it, and so it wouldn't drag down FirstEnergy's already disappointing financial results for the quarter. So, FirstEnergy, where are you going to get the money to pay back this $43.3M that you stole from your customers? Inquiring minds want to know...PUCO ruled that all the financial information related to its decision must be kept secret. This prevents the public from doing its own independent calculation of just how much they were ripped off
. Other parties in the case contend that the theft from consumers actually amounted to more like $130M.So, if FirstEnergy profited by selling RECs to itself in the amount of $130M, a refund of $43M is a small price to pay. FirstEnergy still comes out ahead by $87M. The company has actually been rewarded for stealing from its customers.
What PUCO should really be looking into is FirstEnergy's corporate separation issues. The company is selling things to itself at outrageous prices because ratepayers are paying the bill. "Arm's length negotiation" means nothing when Tony's left arm is shaking hands with Tony's right arm, just before plunging both arms into YOUR pocket.It's well known that PUCO is stacked with bought and paid for FirstEnergy puppets. This decision and its timing evokes imagination of the negotiations that must have occurred between FirstEnergy and PUCO to set it up to look like FirstEnergy was punished, when it was actually rewarded for stealing from the customers PUCO is sworn to protect.
Read about it here.Meanwhile, FirstEnergy has attacked Ohio's Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency standards as "too expensive for consumers." Maybe someone needs to look into all FirstEnergy's programs to find out why they are "too expensive." Is FirstEnergy cheating on EE recovery too?And the bad juju continues to build...
FirstEnergy got their quarterly grilling
this afternoon, after releasing second quarter financial results that were less than impressive.FirstEnergy's net profits were a minus 39 cents per share.
FirstEnergy has been slashing operating costs, such as the cost of reading customer meters in West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, but now even that's not enough. Won't it be interesting to see Potomac Edison try to pull its corporate keister out of the fire while cutting spending on meter services even further? Maybe they ought to leave one of those open positions available... the one titled "Regulatory Magician."
In order to make up for his own poor management, useless figurehead Tony the Trickster has decided to cut employee benefits like health insurance and pensions, in addition to laying off hundreds of employees. I didn't hear him making any personal sacrifices though. Our pal Tony will still rake in $23M in compensation in 2013
, to include company-paid financial planning and tax preparation services; personal use of the corporate jet; annual compensation and performance awards. So while you're struggling to make ends meet or pay your badly estimated electric bill, just remember that the Alexander household
feels your pain (in a vague, annoying sort of way kind of like the pain you might feel when getting a fish pedicure
Despite earlier regulatory puffery where FirstEnergy threatened to back out of the Harrison plant sale unless it got everything it wanted at full price, apparently the company is now involved in settlement talks."Briefs and reply briefs were filed by the parties in July and with the conclusion of the regulatory proceeding, the commission may issue an order at any time. We are however, currently in active settlement discussions with all parties in this case, and we are very hopeful that we can reach an resolution through this process."
Going back on your word so soon, FirstEnergy? I was really looking forward to watching you struggle with that "great asset"
after your proposal was denied by the WV PSC. A settlement would just ruin my fun. :-(
The media's favorite, new energy story centers on how traditional utilities are panicking over the ever-shrinking pool of customers created by on-site renewable generation and energy efficiency. Now the New York Times has also jumped on the bandwagon
. This is it utility friends, change or die!
The smart companies are finding new niche markets that will secure their longevity. The stupid companies are wasting a whole bunch of money trying to lobby solar out of existence. Do I have to start handing out my own series of Utility Darwin Awards?
I'm so happy that the media has now picked up on something we wrote in June 2012
. In comments to the FERC, consumer groups put utilities on notice:"Because transmission is such a long-term asset, we must be extremely mindful of how new projects relate to each other to achieve comprehensive energy policy goals. If we continue to approach transmission as a hodgepodge, knee-jerk reaction to serve short-term goals and provide sustainable revenue streams to investor-owned utilities, we risk setting ourselves up for a possible future where a huge investment in transmission becomes the financial responsibility of a shrinking pool of ratepayers. Technological advances and affordability are making it possible for an increasing number of consumers to produce their own power and feed it into the local distribution grid by making their own smart, fuel-free, power producing investments. Energy efficiency and demand management gains continue to shatter future demand projections, further decreasing the need for billions of dollars of investment in new transmission infrastructure."
It only took just over a year to get this observation mainstreamed into the pages of the New York Times. Perhaps NYT isn't getting timely information while worshipping at the alter of for-profit utilities?
I blame the coat rack.
This Nanton Coat Rack
is "designed to look like a transmission tower, the Nanton Coat Rack by Palette Industries not only comes with a unique shape, but some profound meanings: a good design can work like a transmission tower, to carry good ideas and important information from people to people."Oh, so that's the problem... our geeky power company friends must have pieces of tower trash like this decorating their own living rooms at home and they merely want to share with us by also installing a tower in our living rooms
.No thanks. Tacky.
Your towers carry bad ideas, harmful EMF, lower property values, eminent domain and higher prices for consumers.
P.S. Who decorates like this? Really?
I routinely get requests for assistance opposing other transmission projects, but I received one today that comes from the other side of the world. The theme and message is the same, however: powerful forces that stand to make a bundle of money are running roughshod over the people who are expected to make the ultimate sacrifice for others by giving up their home to make way for new transmission. When the actual "need" for the project is mired in controversy, some people dig in and take a stand. The people are connected with the land they have nurtured (and that has nurtured them) for generations, and they will not give up easily. This is an old story that never changes, however the character of the resistance is changing as people come together in solidarity. We reach out over state lines, across regions, across borders, across cultural and language barriers. The people ultimately will not be denied.
Watch this powerful video and ask yourself just how far away we are from a similar moment in the U.S.?
How far are we from the transmission tipping point? It's coming faster than you might think...
The smartly renamed RTO Insider brings us word of a new feeding frenzy that has erupted at PJM:
PJM’s first competitive transmission project under FERC Order 1000 attracted proposals from five utilities and three independent developers.
The proposals – to correct stability issues at Artificial Island, home of the Salem and Hope Creek nuclear plants, in Hancocks Bridge N.J. – ranged from a new 230 kV line and station (estimated cost $54 million) to two new 500 kV lines (a projected $1.5 billion price tag).
Ever seen one of those TV clips where sharks go berserk feeding on the incapacitated corpse of a helpless animal
? The similarities are stunning. Transmission builders are hungry
for new projects where they can plunk down their "transmission spend" and spin the Wheel of Regional Cost Allocation and Incentive Returns to win big!RTO Insider provides a run down of the proposals and a link to the July 10 PJM TEAC slide deck
with more details and maps of each proposal (beginning on page 61). I'm loving the way that RTO Insider makes the job of babysitting PJM so much easier for me! No more random, inconvenient urges to go wade through PJM's webmaze
to see what's new, and then going through all the trouble of running my find through the geek translator. RTO Insider does all that for you! Go get yourself a subscription now
... because if you don't, I may know something you don't.According to the RTO Insider's proposal list,
all the proposals for Artificial Island include new transmission lines of various sizes.It's just colorful lines on a map right now, isn't it? It looks like someone at PJM had fun with their mouse and an RGB color chart, drawing proposed transmission lines across Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey.Reality Check: Each one of those lines runs through hundreds or thousands of backyards. Real people, real property, real lives. Will PJM spend any time contemplating the people whose way of life they are blithely sacrificing for the needs of others? Will PJM consider the likelihood of opposition, environmental considerations, land values, or the welfare of affected individuals when choosing the winning proposal?
Will PJM notify the affected communities that there is a problem that needs to be solved by building new transmission lines in their area? Will PJM consult with the communities to allow those possibly affected by the new project to weigh in on the proposal that is selected?Of course not! What do you think this is, a transparent democracy?
PJM will make its selection based on cost, or engineering, or other considerations (like which transmission company schmoozes best). And then the winning bidder will begin planning their project and greasing the proper palms, carefully keeping their plans under wraps until they are ready to pull the rip cord and hold their public "open houses." At that point, the transmission owner tells the people that the mysterious, unseen, regional transmission authority has ordered the company to build this project across the peoples' land and that there's nothing the transmission owner or the people can do about it. The transmission owner's hands are tied and the peoples' fate is sealed! What a load of crap!These front-loaded fait accompli approaches never work. The people will always want to backtrack to where the decision to build the transmission line was made in the first place. They want to determine for themselves that there truly is no other option.
Meanwhile, the transmission owner pours buckets of ratepayer cash into astroturf front groups, dishonest TV commercials, smarmy land agents, political palm greasing, and celebrity spokeswhores, trying to convince the people, and ultimately the state regulators, that the project really is needed. There's got to be a better way.Good luck with that, PJM.Residents of Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey -- we'll get to know each other real soon, won't we?
On February 25, 2011, Allegheny Energy was merged into and swallowed up by Ohio-based, investor owned utility, FirstEnergy. As a result, the "Allegheny Power" dba company name West Virginia and Maryland customers had gotten used to ceased to exist. FirstEnergy reverted the operating companies to their historical legal names. Maryland and West Virginia's eastern panhandle became known as "Potomac Edison," which is a name old-timers may remember from the 1980s. It's still the same company. Nothing much has changed, except for the company's top management and profit goals.Just two short months after the merger,
Mark Clark, Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President, had this to say about the "benefits" of the merger to the company's shareholders during a May 3, 2011, earnings call with investment analysts
Merger benefits increased significantly from '11 to '12 to '13. As I said, Gary's going to speak more to that, but this is the pretax earnings impact associated with those and you'll see that, that's in excess of $1 billion.
We're also targeting O&M reductions beyond the synergies of between $75 million and $175 million in 2012 and 2013. We expect asset sales in the range of $800 million to $900 million per year, and we expect to reduce debt by $1.5 billion to $2.2 billion over this time period.
Let's translate this out of "1% speak" and make it understandable. The benefits of the merger were expected to provide shareholders with earnings in excess of $1B in the first 3 years after the merger. The company was also looking to reduce its "O&M" between $75M and $175M. O&M is the acronym for operations and maintenance expense. Operations and maintenance expense is the company's cost of operating and maintaining their systems. In the case of a regulated electric company, like Potomac Edison, this means expenses for things like maintaining their distribution lines, operating their customer service center, sending you monthly bills, and reading your electric meter in accordance with their legal obligations as a regulated utility in the state of West Virginia. A regulated utility is permitted to recover its cost of service, plus a reasonable return on its investment, from its customers. A utility's cost of service includes O&M expense.
Now let's take a look at how this amount is recovered from you and why a reduction in the amount spent would be a benefit to shareholders and increase their earned dividend. A utility recovers its fixed costs through its base rate. Fixed costs are the costs that remain the same year after year, such as the company's investment in a power station like Harrison. O&M is a fixed cost. The amount Potomac Edison is collecting from all of you for O&M was set in its last rate base case in 2007. A base rate case also sets the company's rate of return, the amount of interest it is permitted to collect from you on its fixed costs. Potomac Edison's rate of return in West Virginia is 10.5%. A company is not required to file base rate cases on a regular basis. A company will do so when it can financially benefit from doing so. The rate set in 2007 will continue to be collected until the company takes the initiative to file a new base rate case. A new base rate case will trigger a new battle over the current 10.5% return, most likely setting it lower.The utility is collecting a fixed amount from you to be used to operate and maintain its system. If it doesn't spend all it collects in one month, it can set it aside to spend later. Conversely, some months it must spend more than it collects. It's supposed to roughly equal out eventually, however, there is no true up mechanism that ensures that the company actually spends every penny on actual O&M expenses. If a company ends up with a positive O&M balance at the end of the quarter, it adds that amount to its profit (dividend). Therefore, whatever Potomac Edison can save on operating and maintaining its system is a direct profit.
So, FirstEnergy's first order of business after the merger was to cut O&M to produce more profit from the combined business. During a subsequent earnings call on February 29, 2012
, Mark Clark had this to say:
...we continue to look for opportunities to reduce O&M. I just want to give you one, very quick example, of what we're doing on the O&M side.
We closed the transaction February 28 of last year. There are roughly 75 major applications that have to get integrated between the 2 companies. For some of the operating savings to occur, those systems have to be integrated. I'm pleased to say that our IT folks are basically going to integrate all of those applications in record time, and they'll make their cut-over shortly. They've had 5 test runs, so you'll see that some of the synergy has been accelerated and some of the synergies too, become, as we integrate our systems. And we're quite pleased with where we are. We'll continue to look for incremental costs. It's kind of our nature. But we're not going to do anything simply for a short-term benefit that puts the company at a longer-term risk. That's just not something we are going to do. Everything we are doing is to place FirstEnergy in the best possible forward position.
Right, Mark. Don't do anything crazy like reorganize and cut your meter reading positions because something like that could have unforeseen consequences that squander Potomac Edison's community goodwill and put the company at a longer-term risk. After all, an unhappy customer base could do something unexpected, like turn out in record numbers to oppose a proposed generation transfer that was planned as part of the company's strategy to "...expect asset sales in the range of $800 million to $900 million per year, and we expect to reduce debt by $1.5 billion to $2.2 billion over this time period."
Remember, you must always place FirstEnergy in the best possible forward position!Fast forward another year
. The company's penny-pinching has reduced/reorganized its meter reading staff to less than half of its former level. The company is still collecting the same amount of O&M, but now they're spending half the amount! The extra gets added to the dividend to show the shareholders a profit. Shareholders are the only ones who truly matter. Its not about responsibly providing a needed service in a monopoly construct. Because the company has reduced its staff by more than half, meters are only getting read less than half as often as they should. This means that the company is relying on more estimates to calculate monthly bills. Perhaps the company thinks that it can train its customers to read their own meters and call it in to the company, allowing for more accuracy while also maintaining the meter reading staff cuts. But that's not what happens... oh, no. Some customers simply refuse to do the job they are paying the company to do, and the inaccurate usage estimates continue to pile up. You all know what happens when you add too many inaccurate numbers to an equation -- the answer becomes hopelessly skewed. And that's exactly what has happened to customers' bills. Depending on the number of actual v. estimated readings currently in the queue of averaged billings, bills can swing wildly from month to month, resulting in some customers receiving outrageous bills for thousands of dollars that they simply cannot pay. Potomac Edison's customer service staff simply doesn't care. Pay up or be cut off. And then the service shut-offs begin...
And the community took action.The WV PSC opened an investigation into the company's business practices on June 7.
The West Virginia legislature announced its own parallel, independent investigation of the company
on June 13.All of this
stemmed from the cost of a very small staff of meter readers? How much did they save? How much does a meter reader cost? Recently, Potomac Edison placed a help wanted ad on Craig's List for temporary meter readers.
Yes, Craig's List! Always my first choice when job hunting...anyhow... I guess they're even too cheap to advertise in more mainstream venues, or perhaps they don't really intend to actually hire anyone. They certainly don't intend to hire anyone to solve the problem long term, after the regulators quit breathing down their neck. The fewer people who see the ad, the fewer applicants Potomac Edison has to blow off. Potomac Edison is offering a starting wage of $12.31 per hour for a meter reader in Frederick, Maryland. That's about $24K per year. Frederick's average per capita income is $36K per year. Compare the meter reader's salary with the recently approved annual compensation of FirstEnergy CEO Tony Alexander of $23M
for 2013.Meter reader: $12.31/hr.Tony Alexander:
$11,454.18/hr.I think we've found the place where cuts can be made to
place FirstEnergy in the best possible forward position. More meter readers, less Tony Alexander. But will the company turn a corner and put sincere effort into righting its wrongs? Or will it continue to make excuses for its failure, and continue to lie to regulators and the community?
What's it going to be, FirstEnergy, truth or consequences?
Image courtesy of meme-master Joe Solomon. Share it on Facebook and show your solidarity with other Potomac Edison/Mon Power/West Penn Power customers who are being victimized by this giant Ohio-based energy conglomerate!
Briefs filed in federal court by environmental groups seeking to have a National Park Service permit to destroy the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area overturned contained some damning quotes from minutes of meetings between Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Park Service Officials and representatives of investor-owned utilities PSEG and PPL, owners of the proposed Susquehanna Roseland transmission line.During an August 4, 2011 meeting, Salazar is quoted as saying: "So here's the deal: I want $60 m [million] and I want it now."An expose in the New Jersey Herald tells what happened next:
...the companies "choked/came back in/ and said it's a deal ... only ask is completion of NEPA by Oct '12."