Utility Madness: The $1.3M Electric Bill

By Alan Farnham

Jun 25, 2012 1:38pm

 

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$1.3 million for electricity? $6,705 for water? Consumers are facing outrageous utility charges.

An electric bill for $1.3 million? How about $6,705 for water or $3,000 for cable? If you’re Larry Ellison and you’ve just bought an Hawaiian island, maybe you expect utility bills this big. But ordinary Americans have recently been hit with gigantic charges.

In June, Kristin Harriger of Abilene, Texas, opened up her electric bill to find she owed $1,381,783.92, according to the Abilene Reporter News.

“I opened it. I read it. Then just went, ‘Oh, my gosh. That’s a lot of money,’ Harriger told the paper. Her last bill, she says, had been for about $100.

She immediately contacted her provider, Potentia Energy, and was told that the bill was an error–either human or computer. She was told she could ignore it, and that she would not have to pay it or the $66,000 late fee.  The utility, she says, apologized profusely.

Potentia says it found upon inspection that the bill had been flagged by internal auditors and had been marked held. It was mistakenly sent out by a third-party vendor.

Harriger told the paper she’s only glad it was she who opened the bill, and not her father, “who has a heart condition.”

In June, an Atlanta woman got a water bill for over $9,000: $6,705 in new charges and $2,638 past due.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the problem started last July, when the woman’s bill, which had been averaging $100 a month, suddenly jumped to $497.

She told the city that her bill had to be in error and asked that somebody come out to check her meter.

The city, she says, did send someone, but the inspector reported the meter to be fine. The city insisted she must have a leak.

Meantime, her monthly charges continued to mount. Finally, she says, she had to hire a lawyer to help straighten the problem out.

Her appeal currently is pending.

Carmen Balver, Washington, D.C., director of Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit consumer protection group, says such cases of ‘utility abuse’ are relatively rare. “We haven’t run into all that many complaints,” she says.

Her group’s advice? If you find yourself on the receiving end of an outrageous and clearly wrong utility charge, “keep pushing up the chain”: if customer service gives you the run-around, demand to speak to a supervisor.

If that fails, she recommends, contact your state’s Public Utilities Commission. While utilities themselves tend to be fragmented and local, PUCs have broad authority and similar powers, state-to-state. Most have oversight of not just of electric utilities and water, but of gas, telecommunications and cable.

Your state’s PUC, says Balver, is set up to help straighten out “something as egregiously wrong” as a $1 million electric bill.

 

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