HARRISBURG — Starting the dishwasher, plugging in a hair-dryer or flicking on a light switch will register with utilities almost instantly when their customers are monitored by state-of-the-art electric meters. So-called “smart meters” represent about four in 10 electric meters installed across the state, and utilities appear to be running ahead of schedule in introducing them before a 2023 deadline. Upgraded meters that give electricity companies and their customers real-time information about energy use are long overdue, regulators say. “Power is still billed the way it was 100 years ago,” said Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, spokesman for the state’s Public Utility Commission. But consumer advocates cite downsides — including higher bills for some households. Others complain that customers shouldn’t be forced to accept the technology, even though it’s required by a 2008 state energy conservation law. Pennsylvania is slightly behind the curve in implementing smart meters. The meters are installed in more than 90 percent of homes in Nevada and Maine, according to a separate study this spring. More than half of the homes in at least 16 states have them. Pennsylvania’s progress is localized, with three of four smart meters installed in Philadelphia and its suburbs. In western Pennsylvania, PennPower has replaced old meters with the new technology, as well. In most of the state, the rollout begins this summer and continues during the next four years. The technology itself won’t translate into higher energy bills, say consumer advocates, lawmakers and industry officials. But it does allow utilities to charge based on the time of day, with higher rates for running appliances or the air conditioning when demand is greatest.
Four Pittsburgh City Council members scolded the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority on Monday for ongoing customer service and billing issues — including in some cases thousands of dollars in incorrect charges and bills that fail to arrive — that have outraged constituents and monopolized their staffs’ time. Natalia Rudiak noted that her office still receives two to six PWSA-related complaints weekly, sometimes requiring several hours of attention. “It’s an inappropriate use of city taxpayer dollars to help navigate something that is an independent entity and not our responsibility,” she said. “We are simply relaying the anger that our constituency is relaying to us.” Interim Executive Director David Donahoe said a rushed “marriage” of a new billing system and new meter-interface units that use wireless technology to relay usage information caused incorrect billing, overwhelming customer service staff. PWSA’s board promised resources to right the issues, he said, adding that he has told employees that customers must be treated fairly. Its 111,000 customers receive water and sewer services, sewage removal or are municipal entities. “In short, we have, in all three cases, established the right people as far as I can tell, working on the right solutions. The PWSA does not want our customers to spend time on these issues. … So our goal is to get this marriage working as soon as we can possibly do that,”said Mr. Donahoe. He was named interim executive director March 3 after Jim Good abruptly resigned. Paul Leger, city Finance Department director and PWSA treasurer, said incorrect residential bills have decreased from 50 percent to about 3 percent, just above the industry standard of 2 percent. Councilwoman Deb Gross, who also sits on the PWSA board, said of the ongoing issues and 50,000 incorrect bills: “City council was not crazy. Our constituency was not crazy. There was a systematic problem, and that’s something we can take away from today: affirmation, and that you are working on it.”
CHICAGO (WLS) — There’s a new warning from the Illinois attorney general concerning the new smart meters, and people who may use the technology to take advantage of you. If you don’t have one already you will soon; ComEd says it has installed about 2 million smart meters. But the I-Team found that some businesses could use the new meters to sell you a questionable plan. It’s out with old analog meters and in with new digital ones. You can use them to save money by tracking your real time electricity use. But with the technology, comes a warning. “So there is a lot of potential for consumers to be deceived and ultimately spend more money,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said. Madigan says unregulated, alternative energy suppliers will soon be asking for authorization to to read smart meters, so they can sell customized electric plans based on user habits. Some of those plans could save you money but it also opens the door for potential bad deals. “They may come to your home, they may call you on the phone, maybe they will send you something in the mail asking you to sign that authorization,” Madigan said.
State regulators have approved new rules to protect consumers from receiving extremely high bills due to broken or inaccurate meter readings. The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission adopted rules to limit the time a regulated energy company can issue a retroactive bill to six months and to require regulated energy companies to identify and correct billing errors within 60 days. These rules aim to reduce the amount customers are inaccurately billed and prevent them from having to repay large amounts of money to the utility, said David Danner, commission chair. “Burdening an unsuspecting consumer with a bill going back several years is unacceptable,” Danner said. “The new rules will prompt companies to identify these issues quickly and ultimately reduce the number of, and amount on retroactive bills.” The rules also require utilities to develop and maintain procedures for prompt identification, repair, and replacement of inaccurate and broken meters, he said.
State regulators on Monday approved new rules to protect consumers from receiving extremely high bills due to broken or inaccurate meter readings. The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission adopted rules to limit the time a regulated energy company can issue a retroactive bill to six months, and to require regulated energy companies to identify and correct certain billing errors within sixty days. These rules aim to reduce the amount customers are inaccurately billed and prevent them from having to repay large amounts of money to the utility. “Burdening an unsuspecting consumer with a bill going back several years is unacceptable,” UTC Chairman David Danner said in a press release. “The new rules will prompt companies to identify these issues quickly and ultimately reduce the number of, and amount on retroactive bills.” The rules also require utilities to develop and maintain procedures for prompt identification, repair, and replacement of inaccurate and broken meters. The UTC is the state agency that regulates private, investor-owned electric and natural gas utilities in Washington. It is the commission’s responsibility to ensure regulated companies provide safe and reliable service to customers at reasonable rates, while allowing the utility the opportunity to earn a fair profit.
Veterans can now work directly with the Department of Veterans Affairs to resolve debt collection issues resulting from inappropriate or delayed billing under the Veterans Choice Program. A Community Care Call Center has been set up for veterans experiencing adverse credit reporting or debt collection resulting from inappropriately billed Choice Program claims. Veterans experiencing these problems can call 1-877-881-7618 (7 a.m. to 3 p.m. MDT) for assistance. “As a result of the Veterans Choice Program, community providers have seen thousands of veterans. We continue to work to make the program more veteran-friendly,” said Dr. David Shulkin, undersecretary for health. “There should be no bureaucratic burden that stands in the way of veterans getting care.” The Choice Program, meant to provide veterans living more than 40 miles from a VA hospital with access to care in their communities, has been fraught with problems, including long waits for return calls and difficulty getting appointments. In some instances, contract administrators of the program have not made timely payments. The VA said the new call center will work to resolve instances of improper billing and to assist community care medical providers with delayed payments. VA staff are also trained to work with the medical providers to expunge adverse credit reporting on veterans resulting from delayed payments to providers. VA is urging veterans to continue working with their VA primary care team to obtain necessary health care services regardless of adverse credit reporting or debt collection activity. VA acknowledges that delayed payments and inappropriately billed claims are unacceptable and have caused stress for veterans and providers alike. The call center is the first step in addressing these issues.
Six Democratic US senators today criticized Comcast and other TV and broadband providers for charging erroneous fees, such as cable modem rental fees billed to customers who bought their own modems. The senators have written a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler asking the commission to “stop unfair billing practices.” Last year, more than 30 percent of complaints to the FCC about Internet service and 38 percent of complaints about TV service were about billing, wrote Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). The senators described Comcast, the nation’s largest cable and broadband company, as a repeat offender. “We are troubled upon hearing complaints of consumers being charged the modem rental fee after they have returned the rented equipment to Comcast or being charged the rental fee having never rented a modem in the first place,” the senators wrote. “Not only are the majority of customers using automatic payment systems and may not personally authorize every erroneous charge, many consumers report having to call and remedy this problem throughout several billing cycles. In fact, customer help boards found online at Comcast’s Help and Support Forum contain complaints about this exact problem.” Comcast increased its monthly modem rental fee from $8 to $10 (in late 2014) “and makes an estimated $275 to $300 million a quarter from these fees,” the letter said. The problem is made worse by lack of competition, the senators wrote. When contacted by Ars today, a Comcast spokesperson noted that “modems are available to consumers at retail, and rental isn’t required for broadband service.”