The Order finds:
FINDINGS OF FACT
1. FirstEnergy recently acquired control of Mon Power and PE. Monongahela Power Company, et al., Case No. 10-0713-E-PC (Commission Order, December 16, 2010).
2. Certain FirstEnergy customers in West Virginia have received high bills which may be attributable to estimated OT average bills that may not have reasonably reflected historical usage and require further review.
The Commission has asked FirstEnergy twelve initial questions:
1. Following the acquisition of Mon Power and PE in 2010, what changes, if any, to meter reading and customer billing has FirstEnergy implemented?
2. What data does FirstEnergy use to derive estimated or average bills?
3. To what extent has FirstEnergy reviewed or analyzed each current method of calculating estimated or averaged monthly bills of West Virginia customers after the acquisition of Mon Power and PE?
4. What was the effect of the severe storms in 2012 on how FirstEnergy calculated bills or its meter reading practices?
5. What is the total number of complaints received by First Energy from West Virginia customers about meter reading, estimated bills or average billing. Please provide a breakdown by complaint category.
6. What percentage of FirstEnergy customers in West Virginia had actual company employee meter readings (i) from one to five times per consecutive twelve month period, (ii) six times per consecutive twelve month period, (iii) more than six times per consecutive twelve month period over the last twenty-four consecutive months?
7. Did FirstEnergy maintain and incorporate historical billing data that pre-dated the merger into its calculation of estimated bills or average payment plans?
8. Describe in detail the manpower and equipment currently used to provide meter reading to Mon Power and PE customers and provide the same information for that activity prior to the FirstEnergy acquisition.
9. Describe in detail the manpower and equipment currently used to provide billing and customer service to Mon Power and PE customers and provide the same information for that activity prior to the FirstEnergy acquisition and after the FirstEnergy acquisition.
10. Describe the meter reading scheduling for Mon Power and PE, and describe the alternatives and options that are available to Mon Power and PE to reschedule or otherwise handle unexpected interruptions to normal meter reading schedules such as weather related incidents, unscheduled employee leave, transportation equipment failures or other such disruptive incidents.
11. Does FirstEnergy collect metrics regarding its customer service call center or other customer service contacts with ratepayers for any purpose including internal evaluations, planning and budgeting, or external reporting to other regulatory agencies? Provide a twenty-four month summary of each available customer service metric for all customers and separately for West Virginia customers along with a brief description of each metric.
12. What assistance does FirstEnergy provide to customers that receive large actual bills following a period of estimated bills?
The Commission begs individuals not to intervene in this case. The quickest resolution to an individual billing problem is through an individual complaint with the PSC. To do so, call the PSC at 1-800-642-8544.
The purpose of this general investigation is not to address individual customer bills directly. We recognize that considering the high level of formal and informal filings by individual customers to date, there may be a tendency for individuals to want to address their grievances in this proceeding. Each customer is entitled to specific evaluation of the particulars of individual billing and payment issues and such evaluation is best accomplished through the formal and informal review processes available for individual complaints. Customer-specific, formal and informal matters will continue to be resolved individually. This proceeding will focus on the practices, policies and procedures in place at Mon Power and PE and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses at a structural level.
We are pleased that the Commission has recognized the issue that the Coalition for Reliable Power and Jefferson County NAACP raised in their recent letter: that the meter reading and billing problems are most likely caused by post-merger cost-cutting that violated the companies' tariff. We recommended:
We feel that the current billing problems are an unanticipated consequence of the company’s efforts to reduce expenses that can only be corrected by making sure that the company is being adequately funded to read meters with the frequency stipulated by the tariff. This deficiency can only be remedied through a new base rate case. We also request that amounts necessary to read meters as required that were not spent by the company over the past two years be refunded to ratepayers, and that the Commission impose any and all fines, penalties and reprimands available under its authority consistent with its findings, among other relief measures.
The media outlets that failed to report on this development last week when the PSC first announced an investigation was pending have suddenly sprung into action.
WHAG's story features NAACP President George Rutherford, who tells the story of a local woman who called him in tears after receiving an $800 electric bill. She has been forced to seek help from local charities in order to keep her lights on.
In the same story, Delegate Paul Espinosa proselytizes about how "responsive" Potomac Edison has been to all the billing and meter reading problems. Huh? If Potomac Edison had been "responsive," we wouldn't be here and the PSC would not have been forced to launch an investigation. During the interview Delegate Espinosa alludes to the fact that he can "fix" billing problems for his constituents with his buddies at FirstEnergy. In that case, give Del. Espinosa a call if you need your bill "taken care of."
We're also treated to an appearance by Potomac Edison spokesflack Todd Meyers, who peeks out from behind his lawyers' skirts to make the lawyer-approved statement that the company will cooperate with the PSC's investigation. Well, that's a relief. I fully expected the company to tell the WV PSC to go pound sand with their silly investigation. Thanks, Todd, you're my hero!
However, if either one of these guys truly gave a rat's behind about any of this, George's friend in Fox Glen wouldn't be crying about an $800 electric bill. I think that Paul and Todd, with their big utility company salaries, can afford to personally pay this lady's bill off and turn her tears into smiles. Or maybe they'd just rather continue to posture for the media and make excuses for a company that recently voted to pay its CEO $23M per year.