The PSC Staff and the Consumer Advocate Division have different ideas, and the Staff, in particular, rakes FirstEnergy over the coals in its own blistering brief. That's all fine and good, but I hope a bunch of scathing words in a brief isn't all we get out of this. Staff says:
The Companies responding to this General Investigation proceeding have provided a lot of excuses to the Commission as to why so many customers received multiple consecutive poorly estimated bills that led to dramatically high “true up” bills.
Originally, the Companies tried to convince the Commission and the public the problems
were mainly caused by the timing and size of the Derecho and Super Storm Sandy.
When the problems continued, the Companies started providing further excuses, but did
not take responsibility for their role in creating many of the problems themselves and compounded the problem further by making unreasonable demands for payments from the impacted customers. In Staffs opinion, they still have not taken that responsibility.
The Derecho and Super Storm Sandy undeniably played a significant role in the problems underlying this case. However, all along the way, the Companies made poor decision after poor decision with little to no thought as to how it might impact their customers.
These poor decisions lead to multiple and continued violations of their tariffs. Staff takes
these violations very seriously and believes it is time the Companies own up to their mistakes and provide the Commission with concrete evidence these types of problems
will not reoccur. Further, the Companies should be required to either correct the ongoing problems with their estimation routine or switch from bi-monthly to monthly meter reading.
Hurricane Sandy struck the service territories with large amounts of heavy, salt-laden, snow that tore down trees and power lines...
So, what was the REAL cause of the problems? Staff says:
It is easy, and some may say unfair, to play Monday morning quarterback with the decisions of the Companies. Staff does not believe it is unfair to do so in this circumstance. A poor decision here or there is just that, a decision that did not work out.
What we have here is something completely different, poor decision on top of poor
decision on top of devastating storms on top of more poor decisions with no management
thought of potential impacts to customers. This is a pattern of behavior. It appears FirstEnergy had a plan for integration and was determined to follow through with that
plan no matter the result. Little consideration was given to the customers, “merger
synergy savings” had to be captured. Indeed the Companies suspected as early as
September of 2012 there may be problems, but did nothing to attempt to resolve them
until April 2013. At that point, the problems had become so widespread the Companies
had no choice but to try and address them. However, shockingly, the Companies
continue to act as though they were simply a victim of circumstance. Generally, Staff believes the Commission should send a strong message to the Companies that this type of behavior will not be tolerated, that the Commission believes the Companies did indeed violate their tariff in multiple ways and that continued violations will be looked upon
Bad historical usage data begets bad data and, thus, CAD believes the only way to correct the problem caused by the Companies’ failure to conduct bi-monthly reads of residential meters is to obtain one year’s worth of reliable data from actual monthly meter reads. It is the goal of the CAD that this matter be resolved in the best possible manner for customers of MP and PE, who have undeniably suffered - and, in some instances, continue to suffer - the ill effects of the Companies’ meter reading and billing practices.
Throughout the course of this proceeding, the Companies have attempted to place the
majority of the blame for their billing and meter reading problems on the Derecho that occurred in June 2012 and Superstorm Sandy, which occurred in October 2012. However, while the storms may have exacerbated the Companies’ existing problem, it is inaccurate to contend that the storms caused the billing problems so many customers have faced. In actuality, the evidence shows that the merger of Allegheny Power into FirstEnergy in 2011 and subsequent transition issues in the wake of the merger, including understaffing, transitioning from the Allegheny billing system to the FirstEnergy billing system, and the questionable timing of the meter route “renumbering” project, created this problem.
Even though FirstEnergy's EPRI report still seems to be suspiciously missing, it's time for the Commission to act, if nothing else than from a position of self-preservation. I'm starting to lose track of all the "let's punish the PSC" legislation that's been introduced in Charleston this session. Although we'd rather see the company punished for its transgressions, I guess someone has to take the fall for this.