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Energy audit may explain power bill

I am writing to complain about my electric bills, which are double what my neighbors pay in my retirement condo development. Six years ago, my husband was on oxygen 24 hours a day and our electric bill was over $120 a month. He passed away in 1996, and I am still getting bills that large.

I don't have the oxygen tank anymore, nor do I cook daily or leave lights on during the day. My neighbors pay less than $70 a month, and I'm still paying $127 a month. My complaints to my electric utility are left unresolved. Please help me. Victoria Natheas

Response: Depending on what kind of oxygen equipment your husband had, we would not necessarily expect to see a large drop in your electric bill. The two appliances that consume the most electricity are the air conditioner and water heater. An old, inefficient air conditioner can waste electricity. A water heater can be put on a timer to conserve energy. If you have not yet had one, we suggest you get an energy audit to determine why you are using so much more electricity than your neighbors. Call your power company to schedule one.

Just sitting there

If you can help an 80-year-old soldier I would greatly appreciate it. On March 8, 2000, I entered into a contract with a nursery to remove a palm tree from my property for which it would pay me a fee. After all this time with no results, I decided to cancel the contract, but the nursery won't allow me to do so. I am still taking care of the palm, and I can't improve my garden as long as it is here. It seems as if the nursery owns it instead of me. Ernest Plevino

Response: Although you did not send us a copy of your contract, in our experience many nurseries will contract to buy and remove trees, palms in particular, but only when they have a need or a buyer for them. Once you put your signature on the contract, the nursery "owns" the tree, and you no longer have the right to remove it without financial penalty.

It could be months or even years before the nursery needs your palm tree, and until that time, you will have to take care of it. We suspect that this information is in the fine print on your contract. If this is the kind of contract you do indeed have, you can try calling the nursery and offering a trade: your palm tree for its free removal now.

This advice is too late for you, but we hope other readers will heed it. If you want to have a tree removed but cannot get a firm date for its removal in writing, look elsewhere. Part of the problem is the lure of being paid for the tree, but again, make sure to read the fine print. If you can't get a firm removal date, try proposing the trade we mentioned.

Phone bill overpaid

When I received my phone bill in August, I noticed that it did not include my bill from Sprint, my long-distance carrier, so I called my local phone company. It said I had been with Talk America since February 2001.

I don't make very many long-distance phone calls and didn't notice this before. I called Talk America and a customer service representative told me my son, who lives with me, had cashed a check for $25 to switch to Talk America.

Donald had just gotten an Internet service provider and thought it related to that. By not reading the check carefully, he made a big mistake, as it is my phone and my telephone number.

Talk America told me Donald owed $57.20 and took the information for payment to be made through a bank draft. Several days later, he received a letter from NCO Financial Systems that he owed Talk America $57.50 and, thinking that the bank draft had not gone through, he paid it by check.

Talk America ended up getting payment twice, and I have been calling since then to get my son's money refunded.

People I talk to say a request has been made to return the overpayment. This has been going on since August and the refund has still not arrived. I am enclosing copies of the two cashed checks and hope you can help my son get his money back. Georgetta Jablonski

Response: It took us nearly three months and two letters, but we hope we finally have good news for you. Frances Scott, Talk America's customer service manager in Palm Harbor, looked up your son's record, agreed he overpaid and said she would authorize reimbursement to his bank account. Let us know if it does not show up.

Action solves problems and gets answers for you. If you have a question, or your own attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or call your Action number, (727) 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request.

Requests will be accepted only by mail or voice mail; calls cannot be returned. We will not be responsible for personal documents, so please send only photocopies. If your complaint concerns merchandise ordered by mail, we need copies of both sides of your canceled check.

We may require additional information or prefer to reply by mail; therefore, readers must provide a full mailing address, including ZIP code. Names of letter writers will not be omitted except in unusual circumstances. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.