Potomac Edison meter reader workforce shortage causing customer complaints

June 01, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE |
  • A "Now Hiring" sign outside the Potomac Edison location on Bowers Ave.
By RIC DUGAN/Staff Photographer

Potomac Edison, the electric provider for Western Maryland, has had difficulty retaining an adequate workforce of meter readers, a company official said Friday.

The shortage has caused complaints from some customers that they are being overcharged because Potomac Edison has failed to read meters as often as required.

A formal complaint filed over the issue on May 21 by the Sugarloaf Conservancy of Frederick County, Md., will be heard by the Maryland Public Service Commission on June 20, according to the PSC’s tentative agenda.

Potomac Edison spokesman Todd Meyers said it’s “unfortunate timing” that a complaint has been brought against the company because it has been actively recruiting additional meter readers to help alleviate problems.

“We’re making a full-court press here to get additional readers in,” Meyers said.

When meters cannot be read as scheduled each month, an estimate based on that month from the previous year is used for that billing cycle. But bills are “trued up” when the next meter reading is taken, Meyers said.

For example, if a customer is overbilled one cycle where an estimate is used, the bill would be less on the next reading, he said.

Likewise, if a bill is less than the actual reading, the next bill would result in a higher amount to compensate for it, he said.

“It all comes out in the end,” Meyers said.

In some cases, meter readers are required to assist other Potomac Edison staff in helping restoration efforts after a significant outage, causing them to miss scheduled readings, Meyers said.

“That’s a challenge when you have meters needing to be read,” he said.

In a case where a bill is higher than expected, Potomac Edison can make arrangements for a plan to help avoid fluctuations in payment amounts, Meyers said.

State regulations allow for utility companies that bill on a monthly basis to estimate electricity usage every other billing month as long as the utility provides customers the opportunity to read their own meters, which Potomac Edison does, Meyers said.

Customers can submit their results at bill, by using read cards or by phone at 1-800-686-0011 instead of receiving an company-estimated bill, Meyers said.

Readings by customers will be noted as an estimated reading on their bills, he said.

Meyers said he is aware that a problem has existed, especially in the Frederick County area, due to large-scale job turnover and needed training for new employees.

“It’s not optimal, but that’s where we’re at,” he said. “It’s been a challenge.”

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