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Public Service Commission hears public comments

By Staff | Nov 1, 2013

The West Virginia Public Service Commission is continuing its investigation into the billing practices of Potomac Edison-First Energy electric company, as a two day public comments hearing was held in Shepherdstown last Thursday and Friday.

Michael Albert, chairman, Commissioner Jon McKinney, and Commissioner Ryan Palmer heard testimony from Eastern Panhandle residents regarding their individual billing problems.

“I want to assure you that this is not the end of the process,” Chairman Albert said.

Ratepayers were invited to list grievances, due to what many characterized as an inordinate amount of estimated meter readings resulting in costly bills.

Representatives from Potomac Edison gave a brief presentation at the beginning of each meeting detailing the company’s view on the issue.

Jim Painter, director of meter reading for Potomac Edison, presented a timeline for events resulting in bill spikes.

According to his report, a “more efficient” model for meter reading was put in place following the February 2010 merger of Potomac Edison and Allegheny Power.

“It was in desperate need of being replaced and upgraded,” he said of Allegheny’s meter system.

According to Painter, the rise in customer complaints began in April 2013, after the ‘Dorecho’ storm and Hurricane Sandy.

He also attributed a ‘0 percent cooler winter,’ and vacancies in meter reader positions for estiamtion problems.

“The estimation routine needed some enhancing,” he admitted.

Ken Strah, director of estimation for Potomac Edison, said steps have be taken since to “enhance,” the estimation process to predict better usage.

The company also now employs additional meter readers called “floaters,” Strah said.

“We’ve steadily been able to decrease those consecutive estimates each month,” Painter said.

Holly Kauffman, Potomac Edison’s President of West Virginia Operations said the company cares about its customers.

“There are a number of things moving forward that we’ll continue to look at.”

State Del. Stephen Skinner of Shepherdstown, also attended the meeting and offered remarks.

He described an “overwhelming number of constituent calls,” regarding billing issues over the last year.

“We don’t have a choice. We are dealing with a monopoly, so we must rely on you to keep that monopoly in check,” Skinner said to members of the PSC.

Skinner called Potomac Edison’s explanations for bill increases “excuses.”

“I have yet to hear the real personal responsibility from First Energy- Potomac Edison for the problems in the Eastern Panhandle,” he said.

Skinner took particular issue with Potomac Edison’s ongoing suggestion that customers should read their own meters if estimated bills seem incorrect. He described the practice as “shifting the burden” to customers to save money.

“It is not the job of the ratepayer,” he said.

Kevin Bohrer, a Shepherdstown resident told the PSC that he never knows what his bill be.

“My problems started years ago,” he said.

Bohrer said he does check his meter himself every month and calls in his reading.

“I did my part,” he said.

Keryn Newman, a Shepherdstown resident and member of the Coalition for Reliable Power, is one of many in attendance who suggested Potomac Edison simply stop estimating readings.

“I think the only solution now is to toss it all out and start again by reading all meters every month for a year,” she said.

The Public Service Commission continued its public hearings throughout the weekend and across the state.

Commissioner Albert said transcripts from each public hearing will be reviewed and made public as part of the PSC’s investigation.

More info regarding the general investigation can be found by visiting the commission’s web site at www.psc.state.wv.us.