Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Business

Angry Duke Energy customers look to Tallahassee for help

RECOMMENDED READING


The list is long. Too long.

Dozens of calls and emails, all with similar customer complaints about Duke Energy Florida.

Never had these ratepayers seen their electric bills as high as they did this month. $250. $488. $573.75.

Stacey Blais of Clearwater wrote to say her August bill had reached $749.10.

"I for one am outraged by my high energy bill, which has doubled since last year's bill," Blais said in an email. "I have been so upset about these high bills that I get ill and stressed out just thinking about it."

Without question, this summer's string of 90-plus-degree days is working air-conditioning units overtime and contributing to exorbitant utility costs. Florida utilities faced some of the highest energy-usage days this month since August 2007.

But a large part of the complaint problem is Duke's doing. And its undoing.

Come Thursday, the utility will have some explaining to do to the state Public Service Commission, which asked Duke to appear before the five-member panel for questioning.

Duke added days, and even weeks, on a one-time basis to the monthly billing cycle of some 267,000 customers as part of a change to its meter-reading system. For some, the extended bills increased their electricity usage and kicked them into a higher rate tier, costing them even more.

After public outcry and pressure from state lawmakers, Duke promised a credit on average of $5.62 on future bills. Some customers will get more, some less.

But that appears only to have angered customers more.

Ned Leavy, 71, who lives in the Five Towns community of St. Petersburg, called about his credit. He's deciding whether the payment plan Duke offered for his bill will still enable him to afford his blood pressure medicine over the next five months.

"This really puts a lousy taste in my mouth," said Leavy, who said he was told that he might get a credit as high as $9.42, an amount that seemed arbitrary and too small. "I asked the representative, 'How do you people sleep at night?' She said, 'Actually, I sleep very well.'

"I've been in business for 30 years. I've never received a colder or more frosty answer."

Ted Petine bought his house in Tarpon Springs a few months ago and hasn't even moved in. The Bloomfield, N.J., resident received a bill this month for $170. His thermostat stays at 80 degrees. There's no refrigerator in the house. And just a couple of night lights burn in the evenings.

"I'm not even living in the house yet," said Petine of his 1,800-square-foot home. "I insisted as a consumer that they come out and check the meter. They refused. They don't seem to give a damn."

Petine said he hopes he gets a credit. But he's not holding his breath.

Blais wondered if anyone plans to take legal action, as some have suggested, or do anything else that could help customers against the nation's largest utility company, a company that ranks lowest year after year for customer service among big utilities in Florida.

"I spoke to another employee of Duke Energy who was completely unsympathetic to this travesty. I almost broke down in tears," Blais said. "So Ivan, is there anyone specific that I need to speak to directly?"

Perhaps the question now is: Tallahassee, are you listening?

Contact Ivan Penn at [email protected] or (727) 892-2332. Follow @Consumers_Edge.

Comments
Across country, small retailers aim for emotional ties big chains may lack

Across country, small retailers aim for emotional ties big chains may lack

Associated PressSome smaller retailers will tug at shoppers’ heartstrings during the holidays, trying to create an emotional experience or connection that a big national chain might not provide.Store owners are going well beyond the usual holiday dec...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Six years and counting: Allegiant Air reaches agreement with flight attendants

Six years and counting: Allegiant Air reaches agreement with flight attendants

ST. PETERSBURG — After six years of negotiations, Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air and its flight attendants union reached a tentative contract to improve worker pay and benefits and solidify airline policies."We feel like it’s an agreement that is cert...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Workers at luxury St. Pete condo tower say they are owed thousands

Workers at luxury St. Pete condo tower say they are owed thousands

ST. PETERSBURG — Nearly three dozen workers at ONE St. Petersburg, a luxury condo tower under construction in the heart of downtown, haven’t been paid in weeks and are owed thousands of dollars.With the holidays nearing, some of the men say they are ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Some cities faced with all-or-nothing medical marijuana rules are playing it safe

Some cities faced with all-or-nothing medical marijuana rules are playing it safe

When it comes to weighing the options for regulating medical marijuana through the law passed this year, Dunedin city commissioners declared local governments face a "conundrum" and "a false dilemma."They said they would welcome a dispensary in the c...
Published: 11/22/17
More guns being detected at Tampa Bay area airports — and everywhere else

More guns being detected at Tampa Bay area airports — and everywhere else

TAMPA — Here’s some travel math for this traditionally heavy day for long trips: More people carrying guns plus more people flying equals more guns going to the airport.The numbers bear this out. The federal Transportation Security Administration has...
Published: 11/22/17
A year after impasse, Pasco school contract talks run more smoothly

A year after impasse, Pasco school contract talks run more smoothly

LAND O’LAKES — Representatives from the Pasco County school district and the United School Employees of Pasco sat together several times in the weeks leading to Thanksgiving break, trading contract proposals amid (mostly) amicable conversation.They c...
Published: 11/22/17

Florida Supreme Court suspends two Hillsborough lawyers

Times Staff WriterTwo Hillsborough County lawyers have been suspended from practice because of professional misconduct.The Florida Supreme Court ordered a 91-day suspension for Richard Luther Bradford of Brandon after he was found in contempt for fai...
Published: 11/22/17
Get all the Black Friday sales circulars today. Here’s how

Get all the Black Friday sales circulars today. Here’s how

The Tampa Bay Times Thanksgiving Early Bird edition, with all of the Black Friday ads and sales circulars, is available today.That’s right. You don’t have to wait until Thursday to check out the savings. Weighing nearly five pounds, the Early Bird Ed...
Published: 11/22/17
U.S. business leaders say Cuba is still open, at least to them, despite Trump’s new rules

U.S. business leaders say Cuba is still open, at least to them, despite Trump’s new rules

WASHINGTON — When the Trump administration announced new Cuba regulations, it sparked a new round of hand-wringing in Washington over a return to a posture not seen since the Cold War. But now, the American business community is quietly spreading the...
Published: 11/22/17
Here’s when stores will open on Thanksgiving and Black Friday

Here’s when stores will open on Thanksgiving and Black Friday

Although the crowds might still be unruly and the lines long, Black Friday as "The Day" is slowly waning. Steve Kirn, a University of Florida professor and executive director for the David F. Miller Center for Retailing Education & Research, said the...
Updated: 10 hours ago