The West Virginia Public Service Commission got an earful from Eastern Panhandle electric customers unhappy with Potomac Edison’s billing practices during a public hearing Wednesday evening and Thursday morning in Shepherdstown, W.Va.
Customers are upset because last winter and spring they received estimated monthly bills that were much higher than normal. In some cases the electric company did estimated readings several months in a row. Delegate Stephen Skinner (D-Jefferson) was among those who spoke during the hearing.
“You can’t expect people to be hit with the kind of bills that they’ve been hit with here and not have problems,” Skinner said. “The folks on fixed incomes, some of whom are here today, can’t deal with these business practices.”
Potomac Edison and Mon Power are supposed to read meters every other month, and can send estimated bills in months when actual readings aren’t taken.
Before the PSC heard comments, Potomac Edison representatives gave a power point explanation for the problem, saying two big storms last year, the derecho and October snowstorm affected the ability to actually read the meters.
Skinner was among those who didn’t buy that explanation.
“What I heard this morning about the reasons for why we’re in the situation that we’re in was excuse, excuse, excuse, excuse,” he said. “And then I heard that there were some issues in need of enhancement. I have yet to hear the real personal responsibility from First Energy and Potomac Edison for the problems in the Eastern Panhandle.”
Several customers who received extraordinarily high bills testified. One was Kevin Bohrer, who is retired from a power company where he worked at a generation plant. Bohrer says the inconsistent billing has been hard on him.
“This is the way I’ve been paying my electric bill now for the last two-to three years: I have to send them an extra $100 or $200 extra every month because I don’t want to get hit with no $500, $600 electric bill like I did one time,” Bohrer said. “I can’t afford that I’m on disability now.”
Some customers described getting multiple bills in a single month, and others expressed concern that the power company doesn’t have good enough documentation to accurately estimate a meter reading. Sharon Wilson offered a solution.
“I think the only way to get a bottom line accurate estimate for everybody is to mandate that for a 12 month consecutive period that the meters get read every month,” Wilson said. “And that to me would give a base line then and would probably make future bills be more accurate.”
Potomac Edison spokesman Todd Myers said the company encourages customers to call when they have a problem so the Potomac Edison can work with them. Several company representatives were on hand to meet with customers during and after the hearing.
Myers said before First Energy bought Allegheny Power, the employees who read meters had other duties, like collections, hook ups and disconnections.
“Now meter readers do nothing but read meters,” he said. “The other responsibilities have been split off.”
“So people say there’s not as many meter readers,” he said. “There may be a little bit less meter readers but they are meter readers who are 100 percent dedicated to reading meters all day long. And we’ve clustered their routes together.”
Potomac Edison representatives were on hand at the hearing to help people find a solution to their individual billing problem. The PSC also took comments from Mon Power customers Thursday night and Friday morning in Fairmont, W.Va.