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Customers, state senator question Aloha Utilities' billing practices

It's been nine months since Aloha Utilities sold its water and wastewater systems to a public agency, but for Jim Turtle and his neighbors, the bills from Aloha have kept on coming.

Not for water and sewer service, but for streetlights and garbage collection.

Some folks wondered what was going on and contacted state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. The former Aloha customer and frequent critic responded by asking the Public Service Commission to look into whether that was legal.

"It seems like Aloha is playing the middle person in this," said Turtle, who lives in the Tahitian Homes, Aloha Gardens and Tiki Village area and serves on the board of directors for the civic association. "We would have lower rates if they weren't in there. Why should we have a middle person drawing off money?"

Fasano's staff contacted Progress Energy, which said it did not have a third-party arrangement with Aloha for the streetlights. Representatives of the company would not give Fasano a list of its customers, citing confidentiality.

That prompted Fasano to seek the PSC's involvement.

"The PSC is the only organization we can give that to without subpoena," Progress Energy spokeswoman Suzanne Grant said. She did say that Aloha is among its customers. Those who are deemed customers, such as municipalities, may resell the electricity but are not allowed to profit from it.

Fasano wants to make sure that's the case with Aloha.

Because Aloha does not have an agreement to be a third-party biller, "it is conceivable that Aloha may be selling electricity for a profit," Fasano wrote in a letter to incoming PSC chairwoman Nancy Argenziano.

He included one customer's bill, which showed charges of $46.08 for the past three months for garbage and streetlights.

Aloha officials said they had not seen the letter and were in no position to comment.

Fasano asked the PSC to determine how many homes Aloha bills and whether it's charging more than Progress Energy can.

If Aloha is charging more, Fasano said, he thinks customers would be entitled to a refund of the difference.

That could add up to big bucks, as Aloha has been billing some of the communities for 25 or 30 years, he said. He estimates that between 2,000 and 5,000 customers have received these bills.

The garbage service falls outside the PSC's jurisdiction. But Fasano spokesman Greg Giordano said his boss plans to sponsor a bill that would allow Pasco residents to choose their haulers.

Customers, state senator question Aloha Utilities' billing practices 11/17/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 7:11pm]
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