As the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC) and state legislature continue to investigate Potomac Edison for issues related to its billing practices, advocates give insight into what the investigation will mean for energy customers, and offer tips to consumers interested in protecting themselves.
Byron Harris, the director of the independent Consumer Advocate Division of the Public Service Commission spoke to the Chronicle about the investigation.
"At some point the company should have been aware that there was a problem," he said
Harris said that rather than addressing every individual ratepayer's specific billing abnormalities, the investigation will focus on uncovering large-scale issues in Potomac Edison's methodology.
"We're looking for a more systematic issue," he said.
Byron said the PSC's decision to investigate widespread issues came as a result overwhelming public outcry. -- In the last 11 months more than 750 complaints or informal requests for assistance were made and nearly 70 formal complaints were filed according to Harris.
"That's a lot" he said. "It's probably unprecedented."
The Coalition for Reliable Power--who, along with the Jefferson County NAACP, called for the investigation by the PSC after holding a citizens hearing to discuss the issue in late May, provided an independent survey of data on ratepayers and a citizens' petition, including more than 250 signatures to the Public Service Commission in early June.
"The authorities just weren't really paying attention to this issue," coalition member, Keryn Newman said about their efforts.
Last week the coalition released a set of tips for individual consumers in need of immediate relief from burdensome billing.
According to the two- page memo called, "Taking Charge of your Electric Bill," customers should first call Potomac Edison directly at 1-800-686-0011 with questions or concerns about a bill.
Those still unsatisfied are told to contact the West Virginia Public Service Consumer Affairs Technician at 1-800-642-8544, in order to informally or formally dispute the bill.
All affected customers are encouraged to take part in the general investigation of Potomac Edison by either submitting comments online, or by fax and U.S. mail.
Coalition members said they encourage customers to take their energy needs into their own hands by learning to take monthly meter readings for themselves.
In an interview coalition member, Patience Wait discussed the gravity of this issue as it affects the everyday citizen in the Eastern Panhandle and across the region.
"These are people's everyday lives," she said.
"It's a hardship for a lot of people."
Byron Harris said the PSC's investigation will likely continue for several months.
The whole process will take quite a while, he said.
In the meantime, Potomac Edison customers who would like to sign up for periodic news updates and alerts from the citizens organization can contact the coalition via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Instructions for how to read your electric meter can be found at Potomac Edison's web site, www.firstenergycorp.com or by calling a customer service representative for assistance.
To submit comments for the Public Service Commissions general investigation online visit www.psc.state.wv.us/scripts/onlinecomments/formalDisclaimer.cfmand select case number 13-0830-E-GI from the High Profile Cases, drop-down menu.
To submit comments via mail send them to the Public Service Commission of West Virginia, P.O. Box 812 Charleston, W.Va, 25323. Or, submit comments via fax by dialing 304-340-0325.