ST. PETERSBURG — Carlton Dameron picked up the phone in disgust.
He called a reporter Wednesday morning to say Duke Energy had charged him $5 for a payment plan on a bill that escalated more than 50 percent due to no fault of his own.
Dameron was one of about 267,000 Duke customers facing unusually high bills this month because the utility is temporarily extending its billing cycle by as many as 12 days. The longer billing cycle — the result of changes in how meters are read — kicked some into a higher rate tier.
For Dameron, 73, a retired AT&T employee who lives on a fixed income, the bigger bill meant he owed $338.25, about $120 more than his regular bill this time of year.
Dameron had read in the Tampa Bay Times that he could get a payment plan by calling customer service. When he did, the representative said she would have to charge him a fee to enroll in a payment plan.
"She said, 'That's the way our policy is,' " Dameron told the Times.
He had no choice. "I didn't have the extra hundred dollars," Dameron said.
When questioned by the Times, Duke said neither Dameron nor anyone else would be charged for a payment extension because of the billing cycle change.
"Guess who just called," Dameron told a reporter Wednesday afternoon. He said Duke told him the representative "was wrong. We're not going to charge you that $5.
"That $5 doesn't mean much to them," Dameron said, "but it means a lot to people like me."
Contact Ivan Penn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2332. Follow @Consumers_Edge.