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.
In the wake of the FirstEnergy General Investigation of billing, meter reading and customer service practices of Potomac Edison and Mon Power, the WV PSC ordered the company "to address the substance of the complaints voiced at the hearings."
Yesterday, FirstEnergy filed its "address." Gotta wonder, does the PSC ever smack the regulated with a ruler and reject a homework assignment as incomplete?
FirstEnergy only "addressed the substance" of its own selective hearing of the public comments, not the actual comments. FirstEnergy only "addresses" what it wants to address, picking and choosing only the complaints that fit into its story line, and ignoring the rest. Go ahead, read the "report." Were your issues addressed? If not, please feel free to let the WV PSC know.
Don't let your time and effort at the public comment hearing be swept under the rug and dismissed by FirstEnergy! And, while you're at it, why not drop an email to Senator Herb Snyder and let him know how you've been tossed under the bus by the PSC and FirstEnergy. Be nice to Herb, he's on our side!
I got my Potomac Edison bill yesterday. I found out I'm not "special" because my bill was estimated. But that's not the half of it. My bill was overestimated by hundreds of kwh... again! So I had to make a phone call to ask for a correct re-billing... again.
My Happy Town guide was overjoyed to do the grunt work of recalculating my bill and doing whatever it is he does to instigate a re-billing. Aside from that, he was completely useless to provide any insight or assistance into the root problem that causes me to have to call and ask for a re-bill every other month, other than the suggestion that I read my own meter every other month and call it in before the estimated bill is calculated.
No. Just no.
He did admit that all Potomac Edison's estimated bills are wrong because it is based on last year's data that may be inaccurate. But he thinks that's okay because it will all even out the next time Potomac Edison comes to read my meter and issues me a correct bill.
But I did ask how much they were paying him that it doesn't matter in his own household if his utility bills fluctuate hundreds of dollars every month. Silence. Does he realize that seniors and people just barely hanging on month-to-month are on budgets and can't afford these monthly fluctuations caused by the fact that Potomac Edison hasn't been doing its job? More silence.
And then he had the audacity to ask if there was anything else he could do to "help" me.
Nope, this bi-monthly comedy routine makes me almost as giddy as a wagon full of puppies. :-)
The White House is said to be taking its time nominating another candidate
to lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, in the wake of this fall's Binz Bureaucratic Bungle. Several quite boring candidates have emerged, and that's probably good news. Nobody wants a regulator that needs a PR firm to shepherd him or her through congressional approvals. The bullshit is already thick enough on the floor of the Capitol.
However, this means that Jon Wellinghoff will continue as Chairman until a replacement is confirmed next year. But Wellinghoff just couldn't wait to sign his post-FERC revolving door deal. He announced earlier this month that he would be taking a position with law firm Stoel Rives LLP, whose clients have business before the Commission.
Wellinghoff says he has been recusing himself from the firm's cases for months, and will continue to do so until he leaves FERC. Wellinghoff says this doesn't present a conflict of interest.
Senator Barrasso says it does too.
And so another revolving door conflict starts. Why doesn't Congress institute a cooling off period between being the regulator and being the regulated? Or perhaps just prohibit it in its entirety? Maybe then we'd get regulators who want to regulate, not use their position as a stepping stone to a cozy retirement twisting the arms of those who take their place.
Regulatory capture is real. In a most appalling recent case, Wisconsin's Citizens Utility Board ratepayer advocate said goodbye to public service and took a job with transmission company ATC.
Is anyone looking out for you anymore, or are they all just studying the revolving door in order to time their exit for maximum profit?
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.
Pick up the phone. Call toll free 1-877-579-6757 and tell Kansas Governor Sam Brownback that you do not want any of his Grain Belt Express wind here in "eastern states." Do it now!
Why should you call Sam? Because he supports construction of a 750-mile overhead high voltage electric transmission line across Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana intended to export wind-generated electricity from Kansas to "states farther east" and make those "states farther east" pay to construct and operate it.None of these "states farther east" were consulted or asked if they wanted the electricity or the bill for this transmission line.
This project is pure speculation by a get-rich-quick company out of Texas, Clean Line Energy Partners. Grain Belt Express wants to preclude the development of clean energy resources in "states farther east" and force you to buy imported "renewables" from Kansas. This takes money out of your community and puts it in Sam's pocket!Sam controls the Kansas Corporation Commission. Kansans have
been told "this is Sam's baby" and that it's a done deal. The KCC staff has recommended that the Commissioners approve the project because they are considering the needs of "states farther east." However, when citizens of those "states farther east" submitted comments to the KCC, the staff and Clean Line attorneys told the Commissioners to disregard those comments because they came from people who don't live in Kansas!Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is controlled by a handful of powerful economic interests
in southwest Kansas who want to make money constructing thousands of wind turbines on their unproductive property, and Texas speculators who want to export their product across 750 miles of more productive land, and send the bill to "states farther east."Tell Sam you don't want his hot air and that you're not paying for his pork barrel project!Call 1-877-
579-6757 or submit your comment online here
. Do it now!
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.
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.
Customers of FirstEnergy subsidiaries Mon Power and Potomac Edison came away with useful information from last night's customer education meetings in Morgantown
and Charles Town
. Another meeting will be held tonight in Arnoldsburg. The meetings, hosted by the Coalition for Reliable Power and affiliated organizations The Mountain Institute and the Jefferson County NAACP, provided advice and suggestions for how customers can protect themselves from paying badly estimated electric bills that snowball out of control this winter.
The Coalition recommends that customers learn how to read their meters and take a reading as soon as possible after receiving their monthly bill. If the billed usage varies from the recorded usage by more than 100kwh, the customer is urged to call the company at 1-800-686-0011 to provide an actual reading and request a re-billing.
Customers were also surprised to learn of a $5.00 flat monthly charge per customer included in the "base charge" line item of their bill. This "customer charge" pays for meter readers, billing, distribution system maintenance and other fixed costs. However, if the company doesn't spend the full amount every month, whatever is left goes into the utility's pocket as extra profit! Potomac Edison and Mon Power never have to account for how that $5.00 is spent, therefore they may trim expenses, such as cutting their meter reading staff or failing to perform right-of-way or line maintenance, in order to pocket the difference. These FirstEnergy companies serve approximately 500,000 customers in West Virginia. Half a million customers x $5.00 every month equals $2.5M paid to FirstEnergy every single month. Whatever the company doesn't spend on services for us is theirs to keep.
Customers were also upset to learn how much the recently approved Harrison Power Station purchase is going to cost them. More than $800M must be repaid to the company over the next 27 years, plus an additional $240M for needed pollution control upgrades. Customers don't feel that they are being adequately protected by the WV Public Service Commission or the WV Consumer Advocate. Who's looking out for residential ratepayers? The meeting attendees think C4RP and its partner groups are doing a better job than appointed officials!
The Coalition was joined by Senator Herb Snyder last night in urging customers to attend the WV Public Service Commission Public Comment Hearings next week to tell their stories. The PSC needs the help of every customer who has been affected by the company's shoddy business practices to provide evidence by telling their story. Only if enough of us step up to tell our stories and corroborate each other will the PSC have the evidence it needs to properly punish the company for its deliberate injury to customers, as well as to order remedies to get things back on an even keel. The Coalition is recommending that customers request that the PSC require the company, at its own expense, to read every meter, every month, for one year in order to develop accurate base line data for future estimates.
The Public Service Commission Public Comment Hearings will be held:
October 23, 2013 5:30 p.m. Shepherd University Frank Center, Shepherdstown, WV
October 24, 2013 9:30 a.m. Shepherd University Frank Center, Shepherdstown, WV
October 24, 2013 5:30 p.m. West Chester Village, Stafford Room, Fairmont, WV
October 25, 2013 9:30 a.m. West Chester Village, Stafford Room, Fairmont, WV
You must sign up with the WV PSC clerk in the lobby in order to make a comment to the Commissioners. Comments may be limited in length, depending on the number of commenters who show up, so that everyone gets a chance to speak. Commenters should not expect to engage in dialogue with the Commissioners or the company. You may provide your comments without receiving feedback. The PSC has ordered that the first 30 to 60 minutes of the hearing will consist of the company discussing: the circumstances that gave rise to the current customer meter reading and billing problems; how the merger and severe storms in 2012 affected customer meter reading and billing; changes implemented to improve customer meter reading and billing; planned changes to improve customer meter reading and billing; and services available to customers continuing to experience meter reading and billing problems. If you arrive a little late and miss FirstEnergy's infomercial of excuses, that's okay. The hearing will continue as long as people continue to arrive and sign up to speak.
In addition, the PSC has ordered that the company arrange for its representative(s) to have access to customer records at each hearing and be available to speak with customers individually after the completion of public comment. So, if you have a question about your bill(s), bring it along and get in line to talk to a representative. There's no guarantee that your in-person wait will be quicker or marginally more pleasant than the endless hold queue you are routinely placed in over the phone, but hopefully it will be a lot harder for those customer service representatives to be snotty and unpleasant when they are face-to-face with real people. It's nice for the PSC to provide the company's staff with this little reminder that they are supposed to serve real people, so let's all do our part to help them cast this production.
And remember -- tell the PSC -- EVERY METER, EVERY MONTH!Cross posted from The Coalition from Reliable Power Blog.
If you have questions or need additional information, email The Coalition