Well, isn't this cozy?
FirstEnergy is "sponsoring" a 2014 Legislative Outlook luncheon, and charging the people $15 a head to come talk to their elected officials.
Sort of lets you know who's in charge, doesn't it? FirstEnergy pulls the strings and the legislators line up like trick ponies at the circus... a circus that you must pay to attend.
The WV PSC issued an Order
today setting an evidentiary hearing for December 17 - 19 on its General Investigation into meter reading, billing and customer service practices.
An evidentiary hearing will allow interested parties to intervene, file testimony and cross examine witnesses. At the end of the process, the PSC will order remedies, if it determines that any are necessary.
The Commission has set a deadline of November 27 for petitions to intervene in the case.
In addition, FirstEnergy filed its response to the PSC Staff's recommendations.
FirstEnergy is now admitting that maybe we're right. It's the legal equivalent of being "a little pregnant," I suppose.
...the Companies identified accounts in the Potomac Edison and Mon Power territories that we deemed necessary for reading on a monthly basis through at least January 2014 in order to help address the situation. If the Companies are unable to obtain an actual reading for those accounts during that period, the billing department is reviewing the history to manually determine an estimate. If a manual estimate cannot be calculated or other problems are discovered, the account is escalated to a Meter Reading supervisor.
How do you suppose these accounts were "identified?" In its monthly statistical filing
, FirstEnergy states that there are only "several thousand" problem accounts (out of more than 500,000). I guess that must mean I've heard from every one of those customers over the past year and a half because I'm sure they didn't leave out any of the people who've told me their billing horror story.
After last month's review of accounts with multiple estimates during last year's storms and winter heating season, we have identified several thousand customer accounts for special handling. This is a proactive attempt to mitigate compounding issues from a year ago. These accounts will be downloaded for reading on a monthly basis starting November through January 2014. These accounts also have a hold placed OR billing to first allow for an internal review if an actual read cannot be obtained. The review includes a billing representative's analysis of last year's estimation through the winter heating period to manually determine an estimate. If a manual estimate cannot be calculated or other problems are discovered the account is escalated to the Meter Reading supervisor for further handling.
So, are you "special?" FirstEnergy still hasn't gotten it right. We are ALL "special."
How much money is this company going to waste on uninspired, half-assed "fixes" and denial of the problem? Will they end up spending MORE than it would have cost to just do it right in the first place?
Thanks for the earnings call
fun today, FirstEnergy. It gave Patience and I an excuse to dine on fancy sandwiches and cornichons, drink Raging Bitch
, make certain hand gestures at the voices coming out of my laptop, and laugh at all the stupid things your NEOs
said. And a fun time was had by all... at least on this side of the internet connection!"FirstEnergy's third quarter net income this year tumbled to about half of what it was a year ago,"
read the lead of The Plain Dealer's pre-call story. I had to quickly whip up a side of schadenfreude to serve with lunch!Tony the Trickster mentioned that, after recent closings, his "fleet" of generators is now about the same size as FirstEnergy's "fleet" was at the time it merged with and swallowed up the former Allegheny Energy.
This wouldn't be the first time I pondered if the merger's sole purpose was to carve up the Allegheny carcass,
saving that which benefited FirstEnergy and tossing the rest on the rubbish heap. When does the sale of troubled Allegheny distribution subs begin, now that FirstEnergy has accomplished its evil plan to raise cash by sucking the lifeblood out of Mon Power/Potomac Edison and leaving a dried up, debt-laden shell that no longer provides service to its customers?
For example, we have reduced the size and mix of the fleet by closing and selling competitive units. Last month, we closed the Hatfield and Mitchell Power plants and we expect to complete the sale of certain hydro assets later this year. In addition, we completed the Harrison and Pleasants transfer this quarter. Once the RMR units are deactivated, our competitive fleet will be a little more than 13,000 megawatts. This is about the same size as our fleet prior to the Allegheny merger, but it's a much stronger platform of units, more environmentally controlled and more efficient overall.
It's all about Tony's "plan" to pull his ass out of the fire. It never was about serving customers, or any of that other dreck two of the WV PSC Commissioners wanted to believe.
Let's turn to an update on the financial plan that we introduced in February. Through a series of actions this year, we have made significant progress towards completing the plan, strengthening our credit metrics and reducing our risk profile.
This financial plan, which is now virtually complete, successfully improves the balance sheet at our competitive and regulated businesses and enhance liquidity in a very short period of time.
Tony's next great plan is to plop his "spend" into regulated transmission investment accounts that earn risk-free, high returns.
Last week, our Board of Directors approved as a part of our energizing the future program, a new multiyear $2.8 billion incremental investment in a transmission reliability excellence plan. The plan includes additional transmission investments above current plans, which are expected to be about $500 million in 2014, growing to about $700 million in 2015 and about $800 million in both 2016 and 2017. This program will begin with investment primarily in ATSI, but will ultimately extend throughout our service area. We currently expect to fund these investments with a combination of debt and equity. These projects include rebuilding lines and equipment to improve reliability and reduce future maintenance costs, enhancing and expanding communication networks to harden the system and increasing system capacity to meet the service level and reliability requirements of our customers.
This announcement turned the analysts on the call into curious monkeys
who wanted to know all about tricky Tony's tantalizing transmission targets, but that wiley old geezer strung them along, talking about rebuilding lower voltage lines that don't require regulatory approval and said he would talk more about it at an upcoming EEI conference. Tony also said that the company is primarily looking to "spend" inside its footprint and not looking for projects that have long lead times with respect to either approval processes or likely construction processes. Because they learned their lesson with PATH? Someone's been paying attention in class! But he forgot to tell them about FirstEnergy's proposal for a project to solve PJM's Artificial Island issues
, and any lingering ratepayer-funded PATH assets that may still be kicking around. Do you think the curious analysts were only pretending to be that clueless?In response to a question about coal costs, Donny started talking about pulling his lever. I'll spare you the hand gestures that instigated. And before the laughter had died down, Tony started talking about the possibility of things being soft down the road...I love my job.
Interested parties ask for information and clarification.
Ever made a pot of soup and added too much salt? If you throw in a potato, that will absorb some of the salt, but then you've got too much potato. So, you need to add more water. But then it gets tasteless, so you add some more spices. And then it gets too salty, so you add a potato...
This is how FirstEnergy's West Virginia subsidiaries' usage estimation process has become FUBAR. The only way to fix it now it to dump out that pot of soup and start fresh.
And the only way to start fresh is to read every customer's meter, every month, for at least 12 consecutive months and start with fresh data.
This fact was made perfectly clear to me during my personal "customer service" moment during the WV PSC public comment hearings in Shepherdstown last week.
After witnessing customer after customer being whisked off backstage "to be taken care of" by Potomac Edison personnel after they complained to the Commissioners about their service during the hearing, I started to wonder if the customers were being tied up, consumed by wolves, or simply given Potomac Edison beer cozies and pats on the head before being sent on their way. Curiosity got the better of me when the murmur of an argument somewhere off to stage left escalated into shouting clearly heard throughout the auditorium, and resulted in several bored police officers running through the auditorium to break it up and make the customer move 25 feet away from the Potomac Edison employee he was harassing in the hallway. I simply had to visit the lion's den for myself after the hearing ended!
So, I soon found myself in Potomac Edison's little backstage Happy Town, where Chrissy was eager to solve my problem. She spent a while studying her computer before admitting that she really couldn't help me and went to fetch "analyst" Chris. He spent a bunch of time staring at his computer too. All this chin scratching to figure out why my usage was overestimated by 800 kwh on my last bill, and to assure me that upcoming planned estimates would not be based on "catch up" amounts from the prior year. Chris finally concluded that Potomac Edison's estimation process was correct and wouldn't result in incorrectly estimated bills over the winter. But he could not explain what had failed in my most recent bill that resulted in a rather severe over estimation. If they couldn't figure out what went wrong last month, how could they know that it wouldn't reoccur? The assurances I received were so useless, I started wishing for a Potomac Edison beer cozy to take home as a consolation prize, but it appeared to be locked away somewhere off site, along with Chris and Chrissy's senses of humor.
I did enjoy listening to the "private" conversation going on in the next cubicle where one happy customer referred to a customer service representative as "that brat." Chrissy failed to be amused. I got the idea that she thinks her fellow customer service representatives are never rude or unhelpful. You just keep telling yourself that, Chrissy. I wonder if there's a Rude Customer Service Representatives Anonymous chapter in Fairmont?
"Hi, my name is Brat and I'm rude."
"This week, I told a customer that we only had to read her meter once a year."
"That's okay, Brat!"
"And then I made her go out and read her own meter, although she told me she only had one leg and the porch was covered in ice."
"One Day At A Time, Brat!"
"But then I told her she had read the meter wrong and I was going to have to charge her a penalty for that."
"You can do better tomorrow, Brat!"
"And then she asked to speak to my supervisor, so I made her wait while I answered the Giraffe Riddle on Facebook, and then I hung up on her."
"Ohhh, Brat, we love you anyhow!"
The timer on my patience finally got close to zero, so I thanked my Happy Town guides for their time and got up to leave. That was apparently the cue for Creepy Supervisor guy to get in my face and ask me if I had been helped. Oh, c'mon, dude, you were standing right there listening to this whole sad spectacle and I'm sure you weren't doing that because you're hard of hearing!
Silly, silly, silly!
So, here's what's wrong with FirstEnergy's estimation process -- it's broken and cannot be fixed!
When FirstEnergy stopped reading electric meters to save money in the fall of 2011, it created a string of inaccurate data. In the fall of 2012, when this bad data started being used to calculate new estimates, the problem pancaked into some really crazy bills. Then FirstEnergy thought they could devise some method to tweak their algorithm that would set things right. Only that didn't work. They tweaked some more. And tweaked some more. And tweaked some more. What's left is something that is now a completely useless mess. FirstEnergy needs to quit dumping time and money into future tweaks and begin rebuilding an accurate data base. At their own expense, of course.
In looking over my notes and talking to reporters and customers in the wake of the Potomac Edison/Mon Power General Investigation public comment hearings in Shepherdstown and Fairmont last week, it's hard not to notice that certain similarities keep popping up in unrelated customer stories.1. FirstEnergy's customer service center is rude, misinformed and unhelpful.Representatives have told customers it is only required to read meters once a year, twice a year, or other incorrect intervals."I waited on the phone an hour and a half, like my time doesn't mean anything." -- Customer Sonny Spurgeon in Shepherdstown"We've been treated like trash!" -- Customer Richard Hamstead in Shepherdstown"The term "customer" implies we have made a choice to purchase electricity from Potomac Edison. We are not customers, we are ratepayers." -- Customer Patience Wait in Shepherdstown"
It is clear that FirstEnergy’s allegiance is to the almighty dollar, not its West Virginia customers." -- Customer Keryn Newman in Shepherdstown"
The PSC said I should have been arrested for stealing electricity." -- Customer Sonny Spurgeon in Shepherdstown"Seniors have been asked to read their own meters in horrible weather." -- Maryland Potomac Edison Customer Doug Kaplan"This company is no longer our local electric company and needs better public relations and communication with the public." -- Berkely Co. Commissioner Elaine Mauck in ShepherdstownCustomer Amanda Newcome is outraged by Potomac Edison's customer service reps. who don't care, act like she doesn't have an issue, and don't want to help her.Customer Mike Nemec has spent 30 minutes on the phone just trying to call in a meter reading.Customer Lucinda Harden:
Tried to call Potomac Edison but got put on hold so long she gave up. She can’t hold the phone that long. In August, she tried to speak to "the complaint dept." but was told they have no complaint dept. Talked with someone named Camille, who sent her to supervisor Kim, who was a "nasty lady." Was told, "we're playing catch up in June" and in July she must have used more electricity than what was needed because they estimated off the month before. She was transferred to Wendy from floor support, who put her on a payment plan so she could pay the bill. Wendy wanted her to go read the meter, and she did, even though she is disabled and it was difficult to do. They want her to read the meter every month from now on. They sent her a detailed account history from July 2012 – July 2013, which only had 3 actual readings. She has never seen a meter reader since Potomac Edison took over.
2. It's not about the storms!It is about a 5-letter word, but that word is "greed," not "storm." -- Customer Kery Fries in ShepherdstownStorms are foreseeable, Potomac Edison should be adequately staffed to plan for them
It must be new if meter readers go out for downed wires. I'm a volunteer fireman and I never saw a meter reader come for downed wires." -- Customer Kevin Borher in Shepherdstown3. FirstEnergy is not adequately staffed to provide customer service. "
Most offensive is the suggestion from FE that customers should call in their meters. It’s not the ratepayers job – it is built into the rates and billing that they will do their job. I wonder whether there has been a business decision to keep meter readers at a low level and shift burden to ratepayers to save money. In the grocery store we have a choice of full-serve or self-serve checkout. Here we don’t have the choice. Has there been an effort to change billing to save money for the company?" -- Delegate Stephen Skinner in ShepherdstownMeter reading staff in Jefferson County cut to 5 after merger.
Todd Meyers says it takes 3 weeks to train a meter reader. If meter readers are being used to restore power, what job are they doing? Potomac Edison has been hiring temporary meter readers. Once the investigation goes away, will the temporary meter readers be let go?Gene Hutzler has made numerous requests for the company to trim vegetation interfering with lines, but nothing has been done."FirstEnergy is a union-buster." -- Customer Danny Lutz in Shepherdstown"It's not our job to read meters, it is our job to pay the bill!" -- Customer Meredith Wait in Shepherdstown4. FirstEnergy's customer usage data is hopelessly skewed due to numerous estimates and attempts to tweak the estimation routine that have caused even more inaccurate data."I have a bill with 5 consecutive estimates since April." -- Customer George Rutherford in Shepherdstown"I'm getting two bills every month. Something is wrong here." -- Customer Janet Jeffries in Shepherdstown"
8 out of 13 bills have been estimated – April, May, June were estimates. February said no usage at all. What does this do to future estimated readings when there is so many estimates?" -- Customer Sharon Wilson in Shepherdstown
5. FirstEnergy's merger has hurt customers."
A mistake on FirstEnergy’s part should not become an 'emergency' on our part. There’s no reason customers should be asked to put up with this kind of incompetence, especially when the company continually ties its excuses to merger activity. All of this has come at a great cost to customers. Now it’s time for FirstEnergy to shoulder some of the financial burden it has created." -- Customer Keryn Newman in Shepherdstown"How can we set budgets for small businesses with these inconsistent bills? This is hurting businesses." -- Customer Meredith Wait in Shepherdstown"
This is not a game, not a numbers problem, it’s a human problem. People are suffering – you all go home to a warm house and a meal. Think hard about it. I'm tired of corporate crap – you need to care about people." -- Customer Laurie Scott in Shepherdstown Walter & Gerri Seager of Damascus, Maryland, on their second home in Harmon, WV:
They have paid an electric bill every month for the past 14 months, most of which were estimated, and then about a month ago got a bill for more than $5,300. They brought in 3 master electricians to make sure nothing is wrong in their house, and nothing is wrong. The bill still averages more than $500/month for a home that is only used several days a month by 2 people and has non-electric heat and hot water. Something is wrong at the electric company, not at the Seager's end. There were numerous suggestions for the PSC:1.
At company expense, read meters monthly for at least one year to gather accurate data for future estimates. -- Customers Fries, Hamstead, Wait, Newman, Hutzler, Kaplan, Mauck, Rutherford, Skinner, Wilson, Nemec, and others.2.
Privatize meter reading services so that failure to perform service does not produce financial benefit for FirstEnergy. -- Customer Kery Fries in Shepherdstown3.
$5.00 customer charge should be explained on every bill, and any amounts not used to read meters as required should be refunded to customers.4.
PSC and Consumer Advocate must zealously guard against abuse by monopolies in West Virginia's regulated environment."
There is no excuse for this kind of abuse of captive customers in a regulated environment." -- Customer Keryn Newman in Shepherdstown5.
Require FirstEnergy to take actual readings for new customers for one year. They should not be allowed to estimated based on prior customer usage.6.
FirstEnergy should provide rebates to customers who read their own meters or go "paperless." These customer actions currently save the company money, not the customers.7.
Why don't we have smart meters?"
Why is it we still have horse & buggy meters? Why not digital meters? Why not smart meters?" -- Customer Duane Thompson in Shepherdstown 8.
Anyone calling Potomac Edison should receive a follow-up letter with a postage-paid return post card addressed to the PSC for rating the service received. 9.
The PSC should hold general public hearings in 4 different quadrants of the state yearly to hear from the public and improve communication and service.At the hearing, the PSC shooed the customers with the most shocking stories to FirstEnergy's "customer service" area backstage. I've been asked by a reporter if that was effective -- aside from the one gentleman who could be heard yelling from that area after he disappeared and was told by the police to stop harassing Potomac Edison personnel, and my own personal experience, I don't know. If you visited the "customer service" reps. and have a story to tell, let me know.Potomac Edison also had a story to tell the PSC, complete with Power Point presentation.
Ken Strah, the estimating guy, said they have adjusted their estimation algorithm to not perpetuate last year’s bad estimates, and implemented enhancements to the estimation process to better predict usage of estimated bills (but customer testimony proved that’s not working, as incorrect estimates continue).
Jim Painter, the meter reading guy, said the company will “focus on minimizing estimates” but snow will prevent them from reading meters (more excuses, YAY!) They are still looking at their estimation routine with EPRI and should be done in December. Meanwhile, the company c
ontinues public outreach – "Call us!" You
need to call them
to continue THEIR
public outreach? FirstEnergy advised everyone to get on their Average Payment Plan to smooth out the company’s estimation errors.
WV Operations Director Holly Kauffman says the company has shown “continuous improvement.” She never said the word "merger" once, although that seems to be the source of all these problems. Holly says she is committed to customers. Where has Holly been? Where was Holly at the Citizens' Public Hearing
back in May? She received her own personal invitation, which she completely ignored. Holly is useless fluff.
FirstEnergy's corporate counsel, Gary Jack, pretended all this information from his company is completely fascinating. Like he hadn't had a hand in putting the excuses together? The funniest part -- his studious concentration was repeated on the second day!
The company claims that meter readers “investigate” outages and standby until crews arrive. Has anyone ever see this happen? I've driven by plenty of downed wires over the past couple of years and NEVER saw a meter reader onsite.
FirstEnergy says it has added a floater position for meter reading to deal with life's little realities. Is that one for each operating company?
FirstEnergy admits that in December, 28% of customers had back-to-back estimates. Complaints peaked in April and June of this year, but their PowerPoint graph still showed complaint numbers higher than "normal."
FirstEnergy said it "can’t rest on its laurels." What??? What "laurels" would those be?
FirstEnergy says it will evaluate additional criteria to flag estimates that need review before bills are sent. But you can call in actual meter readings on months scheduled for estimated readings or enter actual readings using the companies’ website (because they don't intend to do their job?)
I would like to know how these monthly statistical reports to the PSC help customers? The company missed readings for a whole bunch of invented reasons – when are they just going to man up and apologize?I think the PSC got an earful. Let's hope they will now take the initiative to regulate FirstEnergy.
Do you think Clean Line Energy Partners learned anything the last time they came to Mendota? I hope so, because those Texans were like fish out of water. Their over-the-top attempts to take over and control a public event that was intended for landowners affected by the company's project were not well-received. In fact, they were downright destructive to Clean Line's public image. It's impossible to get away with that kind of nonsense in "Mayberry," where everybody knows everybody else and many unnoticed eyes and ears are always collecting information.
Why is Clean Line so afraid to let affected landowners have their say? It seems only fair that those asked to sacrifice for this company's project at least be allowed to speak publicly about their sacrifice, without restraint or interference from the company.
So, is Clean Line planning another round of underhanded shenanigans? I hope not. Any attempts to unfairly control the hearing will be exposed. Clean Line should get over their idea that they're dealing with "a bunch of dumb farmers."
Here's a trio of tricks Clean Line should drop from its repertoire:
1. Line jumping by signing up speakers who are not present. Clean Line got publicly called out on this one last time, when its white-shirted schemers deployed individuals to sign the names of people who were not present to the speakers list, just to make sure they were "saved" a good spot in the line-up. But that practice backfired... because of the aforementioned unseen eyes and ears.
See the woman in beige? I have no idea what her name is, but I know it's not Theresa Hoover, Sales Manager of The Southwire Company. But, there she is, in line right behind me to sign up to speak at the first Mendota hearing. When this same woman was called to the microphone much earlier than me, I wondered if the hearing officer had somehow mixed up his list. It all became clear when "Theresa Hoover" was called to speak after me, and no one responded. Here's what happened next, according to the transcript
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Excuse me.You called Theresa Hoover who is a colleague of mine right before this gentleman spoke. Is there an opportunity for me to speak?
HEARING OFFICER: Say that
AUDIENCE MEMBER: You called
HEARING OFFICER: Yes.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: My name was
supposed to be on the card instead of
Theresa's, so when you called her I
didn't step up because I didn't know it
HEARING OFFICER: I have got to
go by what I started with.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: So would it
be okay if Theresa came up and spoke?
HEARING OFFICER: Pardon me?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Are you
saying Theresa would need to come up?
HEARING OFFICER: Correct.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Okay.
Fast Forward through one speaker...
HEARING OFFICER: Where did
that gentleman go that asked me the
Is Theresa here?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: She is.
HEARING OFFICER: Where is she?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Here.
HEARING OFFICER: Theresa,
stand up, please.
Was it supposed to be his name on
there instead of yours?
THERESA HOOVER: Yes, sir, it
HEARING OFFICER: Okay.
KERYN NEWMAN: Some other lady
signed that name because they were right
in front of us. Some lady that already
spoke signed Theresa's name up. I
watched her do it.
Theresa and him, neither one of them
signed their name
HEARING OFFICER: Is that true?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I did not sign my name. Theresa was supposed to sign my name.
HEARING OFFICER: Theresa, did
you sign your name?
THERESA HOOVER: No, sir,
actually someone who got here before us.
We made a long trip from Atlanta and
there was a gentleman that signed us up.
HEARING OFFICER: No, no.
Word is, there won't be a sign up at Monday's hearing. I wonder if that is the ICC's way of preventing a repeat of this kind of bad behavior?
2. The game of musical chairs intended to replace landowners in the auditorium with late-arrival, Clean Line-clad speakers in the lobby.
Those who were standing along the wall of the auditorium weren’t able to hear the testimony for long. Shortly after Nelson finished, a Mendota Police Department officer appeared at the stage and conversed with the moderator for several minutes.
“The fire marshal says we have exceeded the number of people in this room. All the people who are standing up against the wall, you are either going to have to leave the room or look for a seat. If you’re not in a seat, you have to be out of this room,” said the moderator, who then proceeded to call out the locations of empty chairs in the auditorium.
When those chairs were filled, a large number of Mendota police officers cleared those who still were standing out into the entryway of the high school. However, a few minutes later, some half a dozen people wearing Clean Line Energy shirts were standing back in one of the doorways, and police did not move to order them away.
Most of those who had been standing in the auditorium and who could not find a seat left the hearing as there was no provision for audio or video feed of the remarks outside the auditorium.
The ICC seems to have solved this by moving to a bigger room with adjustable seating.
3. The "Supporter's Dinner" (because RICL only has ONE supporter, or because they don't know how to use apostrophes?) Offers of free food and t-shirts, reimbursement for transportation costs, or just plain old offers to pay someone to speak on your behalf will be interpreted as paid-for, biased testimony and ARE NOT FAIR OR ACCEPTABLE.
I wonder how embarrassing it would be if a spy attended the "supporter's dinner" and then turned right around and testified all about Clean Line's "secret" shenanigans to drum up paid speakers on its behalf afterwards? Just don't do it, Clean Line, and save yourself a whole lot of embarrassment, okay?
I do wonder why Clean Line cannot fairly rest upon the merits of its project, and finds it necessary to resort to tricks and deceitfulness in an attempt to hoodwink the ICC to approve of its project? Maybe RICL isn't such a good project after all. Think about it.
I said it out loud the other night in Shepherdstown, but it bears repeating: FirstEnergy and the West Virginia Public Service Commission ought to be ashamed of themselves!Regulated and regulator have joined together to expend quite a bit of time and money on a farcical series of "public comment hearings" that turned out to be nothing but publicity stunts attempting to mollify unhappy customers, convince them that the company did nothing wrong, and that all the problems have been solved. I'd expect nothing less from FirstEnergy, but I really expected more from the West Virginia Public Service Commission.Fortunately, our legislature has our back this time and has opened their own investigation of the PSC's investigation. Be sure to let your legislator know how unhappy you are with the PSC's behavior and media spin at the hearings.The problems began with the PSC's announcement that FirstEnergy would be making a presentation at the beginning of what was inaccurately described as a PUBLIC comment hearing. FirstEnergy isn't "the public," and we're sick and tired of hearing their spin. We all know the story by heart now... Storms, 30% Colder, and Renumbering, Oh My!In addition, the PSC "ordered" FirstEnergy to issue a press release about the meetings to the media. FirstEnergy did it in such a way that nobody paid any attention and made sure there would be no advance notice of the hearings in the media. None of the media I contacted knew anything about the hearings. That's funny, when everybody in the area can recite FirstEnergy's billing excuses from memory. The company didn't seem to have any trouble making sure that message got out to the media.To top it all off, many who attended in Shepherdstown complained that, in addition to plain old lack of timely notice, the hearings were scheduled at hours inconvenient to the Eastern Panhandle's commuting population. An evening hearing beginning at 5:30 was much too early, when at least 50% of the residents face at least an hour (or more, sometimes lots more!) commute back home after getting off at 5:00. Since it was unknown how long the hearing would last, many simply didn't make the effort to come all the way to Shepherdstown to find out if it was still going on when they finally got back to West Virginia.And then let's think about the PSC's order that FirstEnergy bring along a crew of customer service reps. Why do you suppose that was? It was so the PSC would have a fictional happy place to pass off the sadder stories they would undoubtedly have to endure at these hearings. It makes them look like they care and that they have "helped" people. Maybe it even makes them feel that way too, even if it isn't true. The craziest moment of Shepherdstown's two hearings may have been when Chairman Albert went right on advising a disabled vet to visit the nice company reps in the other room to make things all better, while someone who went to Happy Town before her could be heard yelling "I don't want any more of your excuses!" while police ran through the auditorium to break it up. Chairman Albert didn't miss a beat. Was everyone holding hands and singing Kumbaya backstage in the customer service area? Nope, but that's another post.Can we also ponder the timing of these "public comment hearings" in the grand scheme of the investigation? Why did the Commission feel it was necessary to put the public input part of this investigation off for 4 months after opening the investigation? It was because it was hoping that the public would lose interest while lower summer and fall usage made it appear that the company had "solved" the problem.Of course, the media can't be entirely blameless here either. The sad state of our media is readily apparent when reviewing "news" from the hearings. Young reporters who are pushed to produce quantity over quality choose to take the pre-packaged story presented to them by spinners like Toad Meyers and Susan Small, even when it doesn't correlate to what the reporter can see and hear for herself. Much of the news to come out of the supposed "public comment" hearings was focused on the actions of the company or the PSC, instead of the actual public they were intended to hear from.
Reporters weren't interested in hearing from the public, they were satisfied with the PSC and FirstEnergy's interpretation of why the public was unhappy. Only the experienced WV Public Broadcasting reporter produced an accurate, unbiased story
. The rest of the reporters were just wasting our time.The sole bright spot in this debacle was watching FirstEnergy spinner Toad Meyers become increasingly unglued as the questions got harder. The quotes attributed to him went from bad to worse. “There may be a little bit less meter readers .."For a little bit less accuracy? Ya know how I know you're making crap up, Toad? Because it's a grammatical disaster!
“We’re trying to improve the estimation, the logarithm, the routine so we can get a more accurate estimate.”
If FirstEnergy doesn't understand the difference between a logarithm and an algorithm, its no wonder they're having so many problems estimating peoples' bills!
“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.”What does uniqueness have to do with it being important to contact the company (instead of The Coalition for Reliable Power perhaps?) Logic fail!
Mon Power Spokesman Todd Meyers said it all started with the derecho.No, it all started with the costly Allegheny Energy/FirstEnergy merger in 2011. The company needed to find a way to pay for that, and cutting services for customers produced "merger synergies."
Meyers acknowledged that meter reading has declined, explaining that about seven percent of meters were being read every other month, a number that fell to two and a half percent.Let's take a moment to examine Toad's Magic Math. Seven percent of meters are being read every other month. This means that 93% of meters are NOT being read every other month. This statistic lines up with the results of our own customer survey, where 89 of 92 customers said their meter had not been read every other month as required by the tariff. But why would Toad brag about this stunning lack of performance? Why, Toad, why?
Meyers said the next step after the hearings will involve the PSC looking at the transcripts from the hearings and sending reports to Mon Power and Potomac Edison..."Who's in charge here? Mon Power and Potomac Edison or the PSC, compiler and sender of "reports" for the company's use?
"Between the storms, between the renumbering, something that we instituted to make the process better but in the short run it actually made some things worse. You had a string of estimates, and that could result at the end where we came out to read a meter in a larger than expected actual bill," said Todd Meyers.Wow, Toad! That's a very impressive string of senseless babble. It's practically incoherent. You should get a nice bonus for that one!"Our belief is that we're able to do it every other month, it's worked well doing that except for more recently but i think we're going back to the place where it worked pretty well," said Todd Meyers, Potomac Edison's spokesman.Again, incoherent babble that would make an English teacher cringe, but let's try to translate. Toad believes that if they "do it" every other month it works well. Except that they didn't "do it" every other month. So, it didn't work well. Toad thinks that maybe they might be going back to "doing it" every other month, so maybe it's going to work "pretty well." Except, it's not.
"Believe me, we want to make this right, we want to fix this and we worked very diligently to do that and we continue to work, and anything that comes out of this investigation, anything that the PSC prescribes is something that would be good to do going forward, you know, we'll be doing that," said Meyers. I'm sorry, I'm not buying this fake concern. Is there anybody who thinks Toad is sincere? "Believe me?" Hahaahahaaaaa! After all these years of pissing on the public's leg and telling them it's raining, now Toad wants us to "believe" him? FirstEnergy has steadfastly denied there is a problem to be fixed, and has only "worked very diligently" to cover up the company's culpability. I am thrilled to know that "we" will be following any orders of the PSC though. Nice touch! But, the company already admits it has not complied with its PSC-ordered tariff, so we'll assume it will afford equal deference to whatever the PSC "prescribes." (I would order a big ol' dose of sodium pentothal).
However, they don't think they'll be able to do a meter reading every month because of staffing.I guess it's going to cost your company some money to hire enough staff then, Toad. Duh. That's part of the penalty to "make things right."
Moving forward, Potomac Energy officials say they'll do what's best for the customer.Because the company has been doing what's best for the company up until this point?Poor, idiotic Toad Meyers. But, at least he was only attempting to represent his company. The PSC's spinner, Susan Small, was attempting to tell the media what the public was thinking. Susan has no idea what the problem is here, much less what the Commission will do about it. Susan blew off the Citizens' Public Hearing in Charles Town in May, sending a letter of excuses for the company, instead of a staff member. Susan has a lot on her plate, and that's a shame, but if she can't do her job because of it, then she needs to step down. When asked why she couldn't be bothered to do any public relations to promote these public hearings in the media, Susan hid behind the requirement that they be advertised in the legal section of the local paper as "adequate notice" to the public. When asked about the purpose of the press release FirstEnergy was ordered to produce, I don't remember her having much of an answer. Let's take a look at Susan's attempts to frame a problem she knows nothing about (and probably cares about even less):
“My bill is inconsistent, I’m getting estimated bills instead of actual bills,” are the most common complaints the PSC has heard, Small said.
“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.”
“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.
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.
"They ordered the companies to file specific customer service metrics so we can keep track of things like calls into the call center, whether or not people are being satisfied with the first call, how long they're having to wait on the phone," said PSC spokesperson, Susan Small."It wouldn't be unreasonable in this kind of case for the commission to issue a final order that required first energy to keep up the flow of data coming into the commission so we can make sure that their customer service numbers are where they should be and the customer is getting the service they deserve," said Small.
I'm sure those customer service metrics are going to come in handy to keep people warm this winter when they can't pay their badly estimated bills. Maybe Susan intends for you
to roll them up into paper logs and burn them to keep warm?Thanks for the "help," Susan. I'll be handing out YOUR phone number to people who can't pay their bills this winter, instead of the phone number of my little friend at the customer call center.
Too bad Susan isn't proactive enough to provide advice on how to prevent those large bills from ever happening in the first place, so that no one ever has to "pay their bill off over a number of months," because then we wouldn't need to hand out anyone's phone number.This story is an absolute mess.This story doesn't even mention the PSC's involvement.Maybe Susan should have been doing her job all along, instead of trying to simply make it LOOK like she's been working by jumping in front of every TV camera that showed up at the hearings.So, let's review. The PSC set this up to make itself simply appear to be taking action. The purpose and timing of the hearings was carefully planned to make sure most people could or would not attend
. Despite a steady turn out of articulate, credible "public" with compelling and shocking stories that painted FirstEnergy's incompetence and greed as bordering on criminal, the story that was spun for the media is that the problems are fixed and everyone is happy. The West Virginia Public Service Commission continues to fail the public it is tasked with protecting from utility monopolies. Tell your elected officials that we need to make changes at the PSC until the needs of the public are being served.
Time is quickly running out to send in your RSVP for PATH's upcoming "Open Meeting." Follow the instructions here
to send your RSVP for the meeting to PATH's lawyer on or before Oct. 28.This isn't a real "meeting." An overconfident and arrogant PATH wasted your money for several years holding actual in-person meetings, complete with coffee & donuts,
at its fancy DC counsel's office. However, the whimpering remains of PATH now holds this "meeting" over the phone via conference call.During the call, you can ask PATH any questions about its plan to collect another $39.8M from you in 2014.
If you are a party to the abandonment case, you cannot ask about that case, but only about the information contained in the 2014 Projected Transmission Revenue Requirement filing linked above. Silly, yes, but when has PATH ever been logical?A lot of you have been asking me what's going on with the abandonment case and why PATH continues to collect money from you. Until that case settles or is heard, PATH is permitted to continue to collect the reimbursement it requested when it filed for abandonment. If, after the case is over, it is determined that PATH has collected more than it is allowed, PATH will have to refund the difference to you.So, send in your RSVP for the November 1 @10:00 a.m. phone meeting and belly up to the farcical ratepayer question bar.
If you don't come, PATH will think you don't love them anymore.
Customer Sharon Wilson was one of many this morning who refused to be silenced by FirstEnergy corporate counsel's stink eye. I think he needs to practice that look in front of the mirror some more. It doesn't work.
FirstEnergy faced off with ratepayers in Shepherdstown at two public comment hearings in as many days. Despite the plaintive wail coming from a march of malcontents, the company, the PSC and some media outlets continue to cling to their fantasy that things are getting better. They're not, of course, but FirstEnergy persists in denying any wrongdoing, while continuing to make excuses for the reprehensible way it has treated its meal ticket, err.... "customers."
The PSC and the company, working in tandem, quelled their fright of the Eastern Panhandle by scheduling the hearings for hours inconvenient for the area's DC-communting population, and refusing to undertake any effort to give the public adequate notice of the hearings.
No matter -- the company was still resoundingly spanked by a determined group of unhappy customers who came to tell their stories. Those who made the effort to speak out in Shepherdstown included a single mom who had to choose between feeding her child or having heat due to outrageous Potomac Edison bills, and a retired couple who received a bill from Mon Power for their West Virginia second home that totaled more than $5,000. Many more came before the Commission and though their personal stories were varied, all those who spoke asked that the company be ordered to read every meter every month for a period of one year in order to develop accurate usage data on which to base future estimates.
The public also resoundingly agreed that FirstEnergy's presentation of continued excuses was... crap! The only ones who seemed to enjoy it were the media and FirstEnergy's lawyer, who listened raptly to the exact same presentation with a pseudo-fascinated concentration... twice.
In the face of all its misdeeds being publicly exposed by customer after customer, FirstEnergy continued to make excuses and deny that there is a problem. FirstEnergy steadfastly refuses to admit its failings, issue a credible apology, and make amends for the injury it has caused to its captive customers.