FirstEnergy finally filed a public copy of its Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) report on its West Virginia billing problems.  The report can only be described as a grammatical HOT MESS

The general gist of the report tells FirstEnergy to stop screwing around with its estimation algorithm because it works well, except that it overestimates customer usage an average of 14%.

EPRI tells us that when the meter is read every other month, both monthly kwh values are a forecast or estimate, because the first month is estimated and the second or "actual" month is actually a result of actual use plus any true-up amount from the first estimated month.  In other words... you never get a monthly bill for the actual amount you use.  Customers whose bill is read every month have accurate bills, but not you.

The report goes wrong in the first paragraph:
The focus of this assessment is to evaluate the BE protocols’ performance where bi-monthly
meter reading is the standard.
The General Investigation was not triggered by the inaccuracy of FirstEnergy's estimation algorithm.  It was triggered by a huge outcry by customers whose electric meters had not been read as required by FirstEnergy's tariff.  FirstEnergy made it about its algorithm by focusing on that during the investigation and hearing.  By asking the wrong question, FirstEnergy shifts the focus off its willful disregard of its own tariff and the injury it caused (and continues to cause!) to its customers.
"If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers." - Thomas Pynchon
And, therefore, this hot mess should be tucked away in File 13 and forgotten.  It's not relevant to the investigation.

Besides, it's the hardest read I've come across in a long time.  Yes, it's hopelessly technical, but it seems that FirstEnergy also ran it through the Gibberish translator before approving its final content.  This thing is chock-a-block full of typographical errors, missing words, extraneous words, incorrect words, and incomplete sentences, to the point that the reader is constantly stopping to reach for their secret Gibberish decoder ring.  Here's just one of the hundreds of sentences that gave me pause.  What does this mean?
When the values are designated as actual, then BSE assumes that they are actual meter reads and treats when according to the
protocols employees in levelization.
Here are a few quotes from sentences that didn't need decoding:
Note:  "BE" stands for "Bill Estimation."  Just think, if EPRI had named it the "Bill Simulator" instead, we could have been treated to a report full of "BS."  Oh, wait, I think that happened anyhow...
As the number of consecutive estimates increases, the BE performance deteriorates.
...ascertain if using the Prior Period should not be considered for the Base Period if the Prior Period was estimated, and especially if there are indications that there was a large but unwarranted reconciliation.
In the case of scenario 10b (Figure 7-13), which imposed two months of 33%
underestimation followed by a large reconciliation, the performance was not quite as good. The R-value distribution became less compacted around R = 1.0, and the
percentage extreme R-value increased to 8%, four time that of scenario 1b. This might
result because underestimation of usage results in systematically poorer performance of the BE in situations where the estimated month’s usage and the reconciliation amount is large. More testing is called for to verify this result before changes are made to the BE
protocols to mitigate this apparent bias.
Missed scheduled meter reads resulted in a modest increase in the extent of
overestimation measured by the mean R-value, but more importantly more individual
customer R-values are in the extreme tails.
Blah, blah, blah, who cares?  But if you can manage to get through nearly 100 pages of this Gibberish, there's a treat at the end for you.  It's a 12 slide deck of FirstEnergy's "response" to the EPRI report.  Why did FirstEnergy need a slide deck?  Maybe it's because:
EPRl was asked to perform objective statistical testing of our estimation processes. While we (FirstEnergy) agree with EPRl that the  estimation algorithm performs well for most customers we also believe that performance can be improved.
As such we recognize the need to mitigate any unintended impact to customers in the interim and will as proposed in the settlement:
Bill message customers who received a bill varying by more than 25% from previous year following multiple estimates to remind of
payment options (February 2014);
Exception customers whose current estimate vary by more than 25% from their previous year’s bill for manual review (May 2014).
Settlement?  What settlement?  Is the Commission going to allow FirstEnergy to skip out with a slap on the wrist in a settlement? 


02/20/2014 8:26am

I see First Energy follows the Federal Government's standard operating procedure: "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance then baffle them with bull****."

02/20/2014 9:28am

Wait, so "in the case of scenario 10b (Figure 7-13), which imposed two months of 33% underestimation followed by a large reconciliation, the performance was not quite as good" -- wasn't that one of the major problems that people were complaining about?

First of all, why was this scenario "10b" and not, like, "1"?

Secondly, I thought the point of this report was to figure out how to fix the actual problems that actual customers are experiencing, not to call for "more testing".

Gerald Collens
02/20/2014 10:30am

Here is how FE should have handled it. Maybe First Energy learned from manufacturing and instituted a LEAN program and just cut the number of meter readers until it is impossible to do the job. Then blame the employees for not being efficient enough. As the public complaints increase, produce studies to show employee productivity is on the rise and the number of meters read per reader is increasing. If customers continue to complain, Lay off more readers. This will insure meters read per person increases. Then First Energy supervisors can press their readers for more meters read. Once accuracy becomes an issue and labor cuts are no longer an option to show increased productivity. Drive quality down to the meter reader. Readers are obviously cheating and estimating the bills on their own. By driving quality down to the meter readers with verbal and written warnings leading to suspensions and terminations, meter readers will ultimately become better estimators.

It's a real simple solution.

02/20/2014 10:31am

Why not have the meters read every other month and stay in compliance?

First Energy could buy smart meters but that would require a new tariff to force the consumer to pay for it and allow for a profit on First Energy's investment. Of course First Energy would profit from increased automation and less meter readers, but it sounds as though First Energy has built that into the equation, or algorithm, because root cause of this problem is not enough meter readers to do the job and required.


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