Advertisement
  1. Business

PSC will audit Duke Energy's handling of extended billing charges but suggests all is well

PSC Chairman Art Graham thinks Duke has resolved the issue.
Published Sep. 5, 2014

TALLAHASSEE — The chairman of the state Public Service Commission ordered an audit of Duke Energy Florida's handling of changes to its meter-reading routes and promised a review of the policy that led to extra charges on some customers' bills while the utility revamped its system.

The billing issue angered many Duke Energy customers in recent weeks, prompting a flood of concerned calls to this newspaper, a Duke apology, and enough outcry to state legislators to prompt Thursday's PSC meeting.

Art Graham, the commission's chairman, said during a public meeting that he thinks Duke resolved the most critical concerns about the meter issue in its decision to credit affected customers an average of $5.62 as a remedy for the extra charges.

"Staff will be auditing to make sure they've gotten all the I's dotted and T's crossed on this issue," Graham said.

But Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, questioned whether the commission or even the Legislature needs to go further by passing a law to protect consumers.

"What are we going to do to make sure this advance billing doesn't continue in the future?" asked Dean, the lone person to speak during Thursday's PSC meeting, originally billed as a Q&A session with Duke about the extra charges to customers. "I had to read about it first in the (Tampa Bay) Times. If … there's something we can do, don't put it off. I'm willing and ready."

Duke says it is making changes to its meter-reading routes to make them more efficient. Those changes led the utility to temporarily extend as many as 267,000 customers' billing cycles, typically a month, by as many as 12 days. Customer bills revealed additional charges in some cases of $100 or more for the extended days and, for some, the additional days bumped them into a higher rate class.

That's because Duke charges customers $11.34 for every 100 kilowatt hours of usage up to 1,000 kilowatt hours. Above that, it charges $13.70 for every 100 kilowatt hours. That's before taxes and other government fees.

After angry customers complained about their bills, state lawmakers — sending an unusual series of terse letters to the PSC — called on the commission to intervene.

Graham responded by asking Duke to attend today's meeting to answer questions about the meter route changes.

Last week, Duke then offered the average $5.62 credit.

"I did send a letter to the president of Duke Energy on this issue," Graham said during Thursday's meeting. "I got the response I was looking for. They promised it was an unforeseeable mistake. I think it is quite evident because one person spoke, this might address the issue."

"The resolution was reached a week ago," said Sterling Ivey, a Duke spokesman. "We're happy to report back to the commission as they audit and as the reroute continues this year."

But some insisted the $5.62 adjustment was inadequate.

"Chairman Graham, I understand based on the letter you sent me this afternoon and a phone call from commission staff to my assistant that you consider this issue resolved," Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, wrote in a letter shared with the Times before the meeting. "Please be aware that I am still hearing from my constituents that the refunds being offered by Duke Energy are lower than what they should be, even when taking longer billing periods and the summer heat into consideration."

But at Thursday's PSC meeting, all the recent concern over Duke Energy's billing was nowhere to be found.

In the end, Dean stood alone at the podium to speak on the issue at 10 a.m. on a Thursday in Tallahassee. That's not a likely time and place to provoke much public participation.

And there were virtually no questions asked of Duke Energy.

"I do want to acknowledge that the company did appear to have jumped right on it," said Commissioner Lisa Edgar. "I appreciate all of that. I do understand, I believe, that a review has taken place and will be ongoing."

Commissioner Eduardo Balbis said "gray areas" in the policy need to be reviewed, "so we don't find ourselves in the situation" again.

Contact Ivan Penn at ipenn@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2332. Follow @Consumers_Edge.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Bubba's 33 recently broke ground on its first restaurant in Florida, which will open in Wesley Chapel in December. Pictured, left to right: Experience Florida's Sports Coast (Tourism) Director Adam Thomas, Bubba's 33 marketing director Crista Demers-Dean, Bubba's 33 managing partner Jeff Dean, Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore and North Tampa Bay Chamber CEO Hope Allen. Andy Taylor
    News and notes on local businesses
  2. Sharon Hayes, the new chief executive officer at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, says she will draw on her roots in nursing as she engineers a turnaround for the hospital. SCOTT KEELER  |   Times
    The city’s largest hospital has suffered setbacks under a corporate owner, but a new leader says it’s time for an infusion of “love and attention.”
  3. Target and some other big retailers plan to hire more seasonal workers than last year.
    Tampa Bay businesses could struggle to find enough qualified workers during the busy holiday shopping season.
  4. Rendering of proposed UPC Insurance headquarters and hotel in St. Petersburg. Alfonso Architects
    Project would include wider sidewalks, more trees and street lighting.
  5. From left, Celestar CEO Gregory Celestan, Duke Energy Florida president Catherine Stempien and Raymond James Financial chairman and CEO Paul Reilly were three of the Tampa Bay business leaders to make Florida Trend's Florida 500 this year. Handout
    ICYMI: Florida Trend magazine released its list of the state’s 500 most influential business leaders.
  6. Tech company Priatek acquired the naming rights to Pinellas County's tallest building in 2015, but its name came off the tower at 200 Central Ave., in downtown St. Petersburg more than a year ago. (Times files | 2015)
    An investor and former member of the board of directors contends in court pleadings that company president Milind Bharvirkar wasted company funds.
  7. An architect's rendering shows part of a planned research center and hospital on N McKinley Drive in Tampa for the Moffitt Cancer Center. During the 2020 legislative session in Tallahassee, the center will seek an increased share of Florida's cigarette tax to finance the McKinley Drive project and other improvements. Moffitt officials said Thursday that the increase initially would finance $205 million, to be paired with $332 million they have already allocated for the project. Moffitt Cancer Center
    Florida lawmakers are the key to unlocking the money, which would pay for more hospital beds and research space.
  8. Macy's Countryside's personal stylist Lidia Luna, of Tampa, left, helps Lisanni Reyes, of Largo, pick out an evening dress at the department store in Clearwater. The chain, founded in 1858 by Rowland Hussey Macy, is in the midst of revamping its brand and stores, including the Clearwater store, which is among 100 stores nationwide, and 10 in Florida, to be updated this year. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The new look and added services at the Clearwater Macy’s come as retailers shuttered more stores in the first six months of 2019 than in all of last year.
  9. 500 Harbour Island, on right. © C2 DESIGN GROUP INC  |  Jones Lang LaSalle
    The price is by far the most paid per unit for a Tampa Bay apartment community
  10. The Grove at Wesley Chapel Jones Lang LaSalle
    Tenants include Michael’s and T.J. Maxx
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement