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.