Hearings set on FirstEnergy billing
FAIRMONT (AP) – West Virginia regulators investigating customer complaints about Mon Power and Potomac Edison’s billing and meter-reading practices will hold public hearings next week in Fairmont.
The Public Service Commission has scheduled the hearings for Oct. 24 and Oct. 25.
The PSC began investigating the FirstEnergy subsidiaries’ billing and meter-reading practices in June after receiving complaints about estimated bills.
One man in Jefferson County received a $3,000 bill following a series of estimates, said Keryn Newman of Shepherdstown, spokeswoman for the Coalition for Reliable Power citizen group.
“I couldn’t pay that, and I’m not hurting,” Newman said.
Newman said that her meter was read only twice in 2012, instead of the typical six times.
FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Meyers said that there were issues stemming from severe windstorms in June 2012 and Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.
Typically, Meyers says meters are read every other month. Bills for the intervening months are based on estimates derived from the previous year’s bill and a computer algorithm.
Meter readers might miss some meters during storm response because they are called off their routes to perform other duties. These meter readings are not made up, which can result in customers receiving a series of estimated bills, he said.
“In some cases, you had a lengthy string of months in between,” Meyers said. “The longer you have a period the meter hasn’t been read, the longer the estimation routine doesn’t work.”
Customers, mostly in the Eastern Panhandle, received higher-than-expected bills during the first quarter of 2013 because their actual usage was higher.
In July, the PSC ordered FirstEnergy to provide monthly statistical reports, including the number and percentage of customers who went two or more months without a meter reading. Mon Power has 385,000 customers, while Potomac Edison has 132,000 in West Virginia, Meyer said.
The July report shows 27,626 Mon Power customers had two or more consecutive estimates, while 9,328 Potomac Edison customers went two or more months without a meter reading.
The numbers dropped in the August report, with 17,953 Mon Power customers and 6,639 Potomac Edison customers going two or more months without a meter reading.
Meyers said that the September report hasn’t been released yet but the downward trend is continuing.
The companies have engaged Electric Power Research Institute to conduct a third-party review of their estimate calculation routine to see where improvements could be made. First Energy also has better aligned meter reading routes and taken other steps to address the issue, he said.
“I’m hoping things are moving in the right direction, and I think they probably are,” Meyers said.