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 Shepherdstown
Customer 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 Shepherdstown
Storms 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 Shepherdstown
3. 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 Shepherdstown
Meter 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 Shepherdstown
4. 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 Shepherdstown
3. $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 Shepherdstown
5. 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 continues 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.