PSC to probe utility

CHARLES TOWN – The West Virginia Public Service Commission has announced that it will launch a general investigation into the billing practices and infrequent meter reading of Potomac Edison and fellow FirstEnergy subsidiary Monongahela Power, following mounting pressure from Eastern Panhandle citizens, lawmakers and interest groups.

[cleeng_content id="716135073" description="Read it now!" price="0.15" t="article"]The announcement follows a pair of highly-attended public meetings hosted by the Jefferson County NAACP along with the Sierra Club and Energy Efficient West Virginia. At those meetings, scores of customers recounted sudden spikes in their electrical bills following several months of estimated billing.

The meetings drew strong reactions from local elected officials and at the behest of Delegate Stephen Skinner, the Jefferson County Commission unanimously voted to send a letter calling for a general investigation. Several lawmakers condemned both Potomac Edison and the PSC for not sending representatives to the meetings.

Sen. Herb Snyder announced last month that he seeking for his interim committee to be tasked with investigating the billing issues.

On Friday Richard Hitt, the PSC’s general counsel, sent a letter to area lawmakers indicating that the PSC would soon launch an investigation.

“The Commission is generally knowledgeable of various press accounts of public concern,” wrote Hitt. “In the Commission’s opinion, those accounts have indicated that the Commission has been unresponsive to citizens concerns.

“The Commission has in fact been responding to customer complaints in the most timely and efficient manner available to us,” he said.

Hitt noted that over the past 11 months the PSC has received approximately 750 informal complaints and 70 formal complaints related to electricity billing disputes.

While Hitt said the individual complaint process was the quickest and most efficient way to address individual billing concerns, including by assisting in negotiations to establish a deferred payment plan, the agency would launch a general investigation based upon a review of the issues presented in the informal and formal complaint cases.

“General investigations are not an effective way to review and resolve individual customer complaints,” Hitt said. “General investigations are time-consuming and usually consider broad utility practices and not individual customer problems. However … we have determined that a general investigation should be initiated into the practices and procedures of both Potomac Edison Company and Monongahela Power Company as it relates to meter reading, billing and practices involving estimated bills.”

Skinner said he was happy to learn about the PSC’s change of mind.

“I’m pleased that they finally have gotten on board with the public outcry, and that they’re going to take a look at the systemic problems with Potomac Edison,” Skinner said. “I’m sorry it took this long to get there.”

“If we didn’t have an engaged public, I don’t think we would have the investigation,” Skinner added, saying particular credit should be given to the NAACP and Sierra Club. “We have to keep it up.”

He said the decision couldn’t have come at a better time.

“Last week I saw bills from a consumer whose monthly bill went from approximately $300 to over $3,000, with no explanation,” Skinner said. “Everyone should be reminded to keep calling and writing formal complaints to the PSC. This doesn’t resolve everything.”

Potomac Edison spokesperson Todd Myers said the company would cooperate with the investigation.

“We’ll be cooperating fully with the Public Service Commission going forward,” Myers said. “We have been keeping them abreast of the situation all along and working with out customers.”

The PSC declined to comment on their decision to launch an investigation beyond what was written in the letter to lawmakers.

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