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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Note to Self: Double-Check Those Electric Bills


Are you one of those people who pay monthly electric and gas charges without closely looking at the bills? (You know who you are.)

If so, you may want to start paying closer attention to the details of your power consumption and your costs. Or you could end up like Grace Edwards, a resident of Cheshire, Conn., who overpaid thousands of dollars on her electric bill for costs that she was not actually responsible for paying.

(Two Connecticut newspapers reported her tale, which was brought to our attention by The Consumerist).

How, you may wonder, could this happen? According to The Hartford Courant, Ms. Edwards and her late husband had bought their house in 1987 from a developer who, it seems, had been footing the bill for two streetlights in the subdivision. She didn't realize she was continuing to pay for the lights until she tried to sell the home. A potential buyer asked for a history of its utility costs, which l ed to a close examination of past statements. It turned out that two mysterious line items on her bill - “9500 Lumen HP Sodium” and “6300 Lumen HP Sodium” - were for the electrcity powering the street lights.

She contacted Connecticut Light and Power, which removed the streetlight items from her bill, but did not reimburse her for the past costs. She next sought help from the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, to no avail. She ended up going to the state's Office of Consumer Counsel, which helped resolve the matter in her favor. The utility reimbursed her for the past costs, plus interest, for a total of $10,491.21 - and apologized.

Joe Rosenthal, principal lawyer with the consumer counsel office, said that the office normally represents consumers as a group in rate disputes, rather than as individuals, but that “we were happy to help.” Ms. Edwards's bills contained a line item for the lights. It wasn't clear to her what the item represented, he said - although it should have been clear to the utility. (The Courant reported that Ms. Edwards had previously been told that the charges were for an air-conditioning system or even a whirlpool bath). Regardless, he said, “They paid her back. The outcome was a good one.”

Ms. Edwards could not be reached for comment. But Bucks suspects she now agrees that it is a good idea for ratepayers to closely inspect their utility bills - and any other statements, for that matter - and demand an explanation of any strange charges before signing the monthly check.

Have you ever caught an error in a utility bill? Were you able to have the problem resolved?