The Jefferson County NAACP and the Coalition for Reliable Power applaud the West Virginia Public Service Commission for turning down FirstEnergy's request to end the general investigation into the billing, meter reading, and other business practices of its subsidiaries Mon Power and Potomac Edison.
More significantly, the commission has ordered the company to submit a wealth of performance statistics each month for at least the next year, including customer service performance, the number and type of complaints handled by the customer service call center, the number of ratepayers receiving estimated bills for two (or more) months in a row, staffing levels for meter readers, and any changes made to the formulas used by the utility to estimate monthly bills.
"The PSC is learning there is fire behind this smoke," said George Rutherford, president of the Jefferson County NAACP. "There are a lot of customers with messed-up bills, a lot more than just the ones the commission has heard from so far."
FirstEnergy has told the PSC that 73 percent of its West Virginia customers rate the company a 9 or 10 (out of 10) in customer satisfaction. Working with the NAACP, the Coalition for Reliable Power has posted a survey (www.surveymonkey.com/s/BCW262P) inviting Potomac Edison, Mon Power, and West Penn Power customers to provide their own ratings.
Based on early results, just 16 percent of FirstEnergy customers would be likely to choose their current ?utility as their provider, if given a choice; 84 percent would be unlikely to choose them. (Almost a third - 30 percent - said "Never in a million years.")
Respondents who have called the utility's customer service center rate their experiences at just 3.33 on a scale of 1-10. That rating "jumps" to 3.92 when respondents were asked to rate the utility companies' overall service. And an astonishing 96 percent said their utility has not read their meters every other month as required in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Almost every respondent made comments. Some examples: "You get excuses that don't make any sense and the problem continues to reoccur - no real solution." "Put on hold for so long I gave up." "Rude, rude, rude." "Please fix our energy bills - no one can afford this."
In the order the PSC stated there would be public comment hearings in the FirstEnergy service areas' after the company has provided the first two months of data. We will be filing copies of survey results and participants' comments with the commission, and asking them to schedule hearings in each of the affected counties, with multiple hearing times (morning, afternoon, and evening) to accommodate work schedules. Until then, we encourage customers with billing problems to contact their local utility, whether Potomac Edison or Mon Power, for assistance. If you are not satisfied with the company's response, please contact the Public Service Commission and ask for assistance in filing a complaint. The Coalition and the NAACP are planning a community meeting in the near future to provide citizens with an opportunity to discuss their issues with the utility companies practices.
"We are providing guidelines for ways that Potomac Edison ratepayers can seek help when they receive excessive bills. We also have suggestions for ratepayers who want to share their experiences with the PSC as its investigation gets under way," said Keryn Newman of the Coalition for Reliable Power. "The direction and outcome of this investigation is up to each one of you. Please take a few minutes to participate and assist the PSC in its fact-finding. Help the PSC help you. Every customer voice matters," she added.
One protective measure moving forward is to check your own electric meter once a month, to keep an eye on how closely Potomac Edison's estimates track actual usage.
"Ratepayers should learn to read their own meters," said Mike Nemec, a retired Pennsylvania utilities commission judge who now lives in Charles Town." I understand that it's the utility's job to read the meter, but the analogy would be to checking your monthly credit card statement or bank statement for any errors."
Potomac Edison or Mon Power customers who would like to sign up to receive periodic email news updates from the citizens' organizations as the investigations progress, as well as other recommended customer actions, may contact the Coalition via email at email@example.com .
Coalition for Reliable Power