You may have gotten the most recent electric bill in the mail, or maybe the bill is on its way.
You may be thinking that the bill will be lower than usual because you were out of power due to Hurricane Sandy.
If you’re a customer of Met-Ed, think again – at least for the latest bill. If you’re a customer of PPL, the bill very well may be lower.
Why the difference?
Met-Ed uses meter readers to measure customer usage. PPL uses advanced meters that don’t require people to read them.
Met-Ed needed its meter readers to help in the process of restoring power to thousands of customers in the Lehigh Valley and elsewhere in Sandy’s aftermath.
So Met-Ed had to base your bill on an estimate of power usage, not the more precise measure of usage provided by a meter reader. The estimate is based on usage during the same period in past years.
The result – your bill may be costlier than it should be.
Met-Ed is up front about this.
”If you had no power for two weeks [for instance], the bill you get likely is overestimated,” said company spokesman Scott Surgeoner, who became a familiar face on television during Sandy and its aftermath.
So far, customer response to the estimated billing has not been overwhelming, Surgeoner says. He thinks the reason is that most customers understand estimated billing – and how the follow-up bill will compensate for the lack of precise meter reading.
For those who may not understand, here’s what Surgeoner said:
Meter reading will resume for the follow-up bill. The reading will be able to show the difference between estimated and actual usage – for the "Sandy" period and the next period.
So if the current bill says you used power that you didn't use because of Sandy outages, the follow-up bill will discover that. And it means the follow-up bill likely will be less – perhaps much less – than the current bill.
Surgeoner’s explanation was echoed by Tanya McCloskey, the acting Consumer Advocate in the Office of Consumer Advocate, which represents the interests of state utility consumers before the state Public Utility Commission, federal regulatory agencies, and state and federal courts.
McCloskey and Surgeoner also said customers unhappy with the estimated bill don’t have to wait for the follow-up bill. They can request that Met-Ed send out a meter reader to do an actual read. The current bill would be revised, resulting in what would likely be a less costly payment.
Customers also could do their own meter read and contact Met-Ed, they said. The utility would send a revised bill.
Also like Surgeoner, McCloskey said her office has not received many complaints about estimated bills in Sandy’s aftermath. She’s not sure why – “maybe it’s too early,” she said.
She also reminded consumers that if they have trouble paying their bill, they should contact their utility and try to arrange a payment plan.
Nixon said PPL is waiving late charges for any customers who had bills due from Oct. 29 to Nov. 6.
Asked about late charges, Met-Ed's Surgeoner said: "We will work with our customers on a case-by-case basis regarding billing during Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath."
Surgeoner, meanwhile, acknowledged in an e-mail that unlike PPL, Met-Ed “does not have meters that don’t require meter readers.” He said a state law mandates “smart” or advanced meters for all customers by 2025.
He said his company “will comply with Pennsylvania law.”
At PPL, it’s the use of advanced meters that makes any question of estimated billing pretty much of a non-issue.
”We’ve had advanced meters for more than a decade and that provides for bills based on actual usage well in excess of 99 percent of the time,” PPL spokesman Joe Nixon said in an e-mail.
”We only send out estimated bills in the few instances when there is a communication problem between the meters and our meter data management system,” he added.
On a related issue, neither Met-Ed nor PPL has decided if it will seek to recover storm costs by adjusting rates. The PUC would have to approve any such measure.
”No decisions have been made regarding expenditures for Hurricane Sandy – the company continues to tally the total cost of restoration efforts,” Surgeoner said. “And, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission – as the regulator of Pennsylvania utilities – would have to review and approve any change in rates related to costs from Hurricane Sandy.”
At PPL, Nixon had a similar response: “Storm costs are still being calculated, so I can’t say right now if we would consider asking the PUC for recovery of some storm costs.”
McCloskey, the acting consumer advocate, said the PUC, as it did after previous storms, will be reviewing utilities’ performances during and after Sandy – based in part on storm performance reports the utilities submit.
The utilities conveyed some of that information last Wednesday (Nov. 14) at a hearing before the state Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee.