Friday, July 20, 2018
Business

Duke Energy tells customers to ignore high bill estimates, suspends late fees for latest billing cycle

ST. PETERSBURG — TJ Noor felt like one of the lucky ones: His home on 22nd Avenue N didn't lose power long when Irma's winds downed trees and power lines throughout Tampa Bay.

But then Noor, 25, got his electric bill on Friday morning. At $700, it was nearly triple what he usually pays for the 1,500 square-foot-home he shares with three others.

So he tried calling Duke Energy.

"The phone was just the busy dial tone," he said.

Noor imagined the thousands still without power were on the phone with representatives eager for updates. After some online investigating and looking at neighbors' posts on social media, he realized his high bill wasn't because his family sucked up more electricity than normal that month.

No, it was just another storm-related casualty.

Duke officials said on Friday afternoon that it's an issue customers should ignore.

During the storm, Duke relied on meter estimates for the coming billing cycle. Except people like Noor and his neighbors say their bills weren't even close to accurate. Rather, they were double and triple their average cost.

"It's like the formula they're using is to double the usage of last year," Noor said.

His bill showed an estimated usage was twice as much power as his family used the same time last year. It didn't come close to what his meter showed outside.

Company officials said meter reading resources were diverted because of the hurricane and the massive power outages across the state. Duke spokeswoman Paige Layne said there would be automatic calls made to customers explaining the bills were estimates and not what customers actually owe.

"Don't even worry about the estimate," Layne said. "Their actual bills are coming."

Layne said Duke should have the ability to read meters starting next week, and that's when the new bills will be issued. The company, she said, also will not charge any late fees for this billing cycle.

"Right now, all hands are on deck in restoration," she said. "Taking this one worry away from customers right now is what we want to do . . . it gives time for folks to rebuild."

But Noor and his neighbors are still puzzled as to why the estimates were so off to begin with.

Alex Lewis, 28, said he got a call from his wife in a "mild panic" when she opened their bill. It was about $300 more than normal.

"I was sure that I hadn't used that much," Lewis said. "My thermostat is on a schedule and I unplugged almost everything before my wife and I evacuated."

He worries about his neighbors in Central Oak Park who are still without power — or the ones who have automatic payments set up and could overdraft because of the unusual and exorbitant cost.

Lewis said after waiting on hold for 20 minutes, a Duke employee told him he could give them the reading off his meter to adjust the bill, but at that point, he was already at his office working.

"They really should've had some human oversight before bills went out, given the storm and power outages," Lewis said.

Noor has already taken photos of his meter as of Friday, just in case.

"There's time to figure this out," he said.

Contact Sara DiNatale at [email protected] Follow @sara_dinatale.

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