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Storms lead to more estimated electric bills

January 02, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com
  • An electric meter records kilowatt hours at a Hagerstown residence.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

“In the Falling Waters (W.Va.) area in particular, we do have some customers that have not had their meters read for five months,” Meyers said. “That’s not ideal; that’s something we try not to do.”

In the Martinsburg area, where Potomac Edison has about 70,000 residential customers, as of August, there were about 200 accounts in which meter readers missed two consecutive readings, he said. By November, that number had spiked to nearly 2,000 accounts.

There is no regulatory requirement in West Virginia or Maryland to read residential meters on a monthly or bimonthly basis, he said. Nevertheless, the company strives to collect actual meter readings every other month for residential customers, he said. In the other months, the bills are estimated.

Sometimes, meter readers have to miss a scheduled reading because they are pressed into other types of duties, Meyers said. Once a reading has been missed, it cannot be made up without delaying readings on other accounts, so an estimated reading is used instead, he said.

“It’s not ideal, but usually it’s OK because usually they’re back out in the next cycle, but what happened in this case is the snowstorm in October came at the end of the month again, right at the same time” meters skipped after Hurricane Irene were next due to be read, he said.

After a storm that causes power outages, meter readers are reassigned to duties such as keeping the public from coming in contact with downed wires, assessing damages, ordering repair materials and acting as couriers, Meyers said.

Hurricane Irene did not cause a lot of damage in the Potomac Edison service area, but local crews were sent to eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey to help restore power there, he said.

“One of the advantages of being part of a larger company is when there’s a large restoration effort (and) a storm knocks out power in one certain area, you can bring crews and personnel in from areas that are not as affected,” he said.

Potomac Edison is part of FirstEnergy, which has a service area stretching from the Ohio-Indiana border to the New Jersey shore.

After the October snowstorm, crews from other areas helped restore power in the Potomac Edison area and local meter readers served as their guides, Meyers said.

Potomac Edison electric bills always indicate whether the meter has been read or the bill has been estimated, he said.

“Take a look at what you’re charged,” he advised. “If, all of a sudden, you get a bill for $20 and your bill has typically been closer to $70 or $80 per month, you can tell you’ve probably been underestimated.”

“That’s when you can get whacked with a bill that’s higher than what you’ve expected” once the actual reading is taken, Meyers said. “But, oftentimes, you’ll have the clue that I had a bill or two that were very low.”

If, on the other hand, readings were overestimated, any extra payment will be treated as a credit, putting  customers “ahead of the game” at their next actual reading.

Customers who are hit with a sizable bill after a period of estimated readings don’t have to repay the amount all at one time, Meyers said.

“We can work out a payment plan to spread that over several months,” he said.

Customers wanting to do this should call 1-800-255-3443.

To prevent problems with estimated bills, customers may submit their own readings each month on the next reading date specified on their bills, or join the company’s average payment plan, a free program that uses a 12-month average to keep bills at similar levels each month despite seasonal differences in energy use.

Customers may enter their own meter readings online at www.alleghenypower.com by entering their state and selecting "enter meter reading" under "your account" or "FAQs" under "Customer Care."

If a bill has already been issued with an estimated reading, customers may call 1-800-255-3443 to ask if it is too late to replace the estimated reading with a customer reading, he said.

In the Falling Waters area, customers who were skipped due to storms should have had an actual reading in late December or expect one early this month, Meyers said.

“We are going to be getting some additional help down there in that Martinsburg area. We’re going to hire several more meter readers, so hopefully we can get through this jam up here and get closer to our ideal,” he said.

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