Duke reps in town to address billing factors

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Duke Energy crews are no strangers to dealing with the damage storms can cause to the thousands of miles of electrical lines the company uses to bring power to its customers.

But when “a perfect storm” created unexpectedly high bills for Duke customers in the Greencastle and Terre Haute areas recently, a different sort of response was necessary.

After a weekend transformation by IT workers and other employees, the Duke office in Terre Haute and at 1400 Indianapolis Rd., Greencastle, were turned into temporary customer service centers, with workers from the call center in Plainfield on hand for face-to-face meetings with concerned customers.

“We thought, in this situation, let’s take our customer service reps to our customers and explain what the facts were,” explained Duke spokesman Lew Middleton.

The facts, Middleton said, is that three factors came together to create unexpectedly — and in some cases incorrectly — high bills.

The first factor was unusually cold weather in December. He said that across Indiana, the number of heating degree days doubled from November to December.

A heating degree day is a measurement designed to measure the demand for energy needed to heat a building. It is derived from measurements of outside air temperature.

Middleton said customers used about 61 percent more kilowatt/hours in December than November.

This obviously led to a jump in usage.

Middleton said another factor for some customers revolves around estimated usage on bills.

Bills are estimated for a variety of reasons, revolving around the safety of meter readers and access to the meter.

If a meter is behind a locked fence or gate or there is an angry animal, a bill might be estimated.

“It is possible for a customer to receive two or in rare cases three consecutive estimated bills,” Middleton said. “Eventually, the meter reader is going to get in there. If the estimate has been a little low, there’s going to be a catch-up. But we don’t want customers to pay any more or any less than what they use.”

He said an “e” following the usage measurement indicates an estimate.

The final and most unusual reason for the high bills was an error in the conversion to Duke’s new digital smart meters installed for customers in the area.

Because the new meters measure usage slightly differently, a conversion had to be used. In some cases, an error occurred, causing it to look like customers used $8,000 or $9,000 worth of power.

Normally such high bills will send up red flags and a Duke associate will review the bill before it is sent out.

“Unfortunately, that did not happen and those bills went out,” Middleton said.

With those excessively high bills sent out at the same time others customers were seeing higher than normal bills, a public outcry followed.

“I think many times customers feel like they don’t have any influence with the big utilities,” Middleton said, “so instead of calling customer service, they will go on social media and broadcast it to all their followers.”

At that point, an uproar follows.

Things were bad enough in West Central Indiana that Duke saw fit to take extra steps in Greencastle and Terre Haute.

Tuesday was just the first step. Customer service reps will be back in the local office on Wednesday and Thursday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. They will be back again next week on Tuesday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“We thought it was important for us to come to these communities and explain to customers face-to-face why their usage was so high,” Middleton said. “When it’s a combination of factors, I think that makes it even harder for customers to understand. We like to think, as people, that there’s one problem and we can find one solution to fix it.”

For some, the explanation is just step one of the solution.

Middleton added that for eligible customers, a payment plan can also be arranged.

“We can work out a payment plan for you to pay this off over a number of months,” he said.

Customers with budget billing may have also seen an increase in usage but are insulated from the increase until the end of their annual renewal.

Such individuals should call customer care at 800-521-2232

“I would urge customers who are on budget bill to look ahead and see what the reconciliation amount is going to be,” Middleton said.

One mitigating factor for budget bill customers could be that, besides December, this winter has been relatively mild.

Regardless of their billing situation, Middleton said Duke representatives are happy to meet with customers, answer questions and resolve the situation.

“Having a face-to-face conversation is sometimes easier than over the phone,” he said.

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  • Excuse 1 = bull squeeze. Our heat is from Vectren. Has nothing to do with cold temps. And when taken in totality our bills averaged about 80 bucks a month for the winter months for the last 11 years.

    this years bill.....543 bucks. AND....61% increase from 80 does NOT equal 543.

    And really......this has been a cold winter? Sorry Duke but that dog don't hunt. Lived here IN GREENCASTLE since 2002. Been in this same house 11 winters. Been paying Duke winter bills for the same home for 11 years.

    AND........this isn't a cold winter. By any stretch of the imagination.

    Excuse 2 = bull squeeze. We have no fence or animal to thwart a meter reader.

    Excuse 3 = bull squeeze. Duke's malfunctioning equipment and lack of service to rectify the situation before the bills went out is also not my problem.

    Yet after all is said and done......Duke will not fix the situation and offered us a pay up or be shut off dichotomy.

    We've taken our issue to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission in Indianapolis.

    http://www.in.gov/iurc/

    I encourage all to afford themselves of this top flight agency should you get less than stellar and immediate remedy from Duke.

    -- Posted by Catie's Dad on Thu, Feb 16, 2017, at 11:41 AM
  • The higher heating costs doesn't hold water when your heat is provided by Vectren and not Duke. I have had the SAME bill every winter for 11 years because my bill always goes down when I'm not using AC any more. It had not changed this year at all UNTIL this last month, where it went from $79 to $540! It isn't because of the cold, that is my Vectren bill. I also do not have a new meter, so that can't be the reason either. None of their "reasons" explain my bill. NONE.

    -- Posted by everymom on Thu, Feb 16, 2017, at 11:43 AM
  • They're pulling the same tricks in Terre Haute, too. There was even a piece in the local news about it (i.e. - sending out a team of support reps to tell you in person what you'd hear over the phone: that you simply have to pay the bill). They know they're in a power-play situation because the only thing anyone can do to fight against this is litigate, which few have both the money and willingness to do. I hope "Catie's Dad" gets somewhere with the IURC though.

    When January came, I knew they were about to install one of those smart meters onto my house, so I decided to call their service phone number to ask about situations that could arise after it gets installed (especially after reading online horror stories about those things causing massive spikes in billing). So I called them and wound up speaking to some twenty-something lady. She first sent me my account statement to my e-mail address and that showed every bill that went all the way back to 2015 (it goes back 2 years). From it, I saw that my electric bill was $60 and $70 in February of 2015 and 2016. At the time of calling them, it was January, so I asked her what I should do if my bill for February of 2017 doubles or triples (as many have experienced). She responded in stating that they would send out a technician "to check the meter."

    I then asked, "...but what if your tech says nothing is wrong with it?"

    She said, "You'll just have to pay it."

    And she's right because 99/100 people will never even consider taking the company to court and Duke Energy knows this. Since nothing else can be done, people *will* pay it.

    It's a very disturbing situation and one that illustrates the nonexistent amount of oversight this company truly enjoys. It's absolutely horrifying.

    -- Posted by DouglasQuaid on Thu, Feb 16, 2017, at 1:56 PM
  • I just hope they correct the problem soon. I have not been in my home for 2 months and my bill more than doubled. This isn't right. I simply can't understand how they can blame the weather when upon reports from Putnam County the tempature has been in the 60's and 70's part of the time. Just wonder what happened with some of the bills from Hendricks Power & Light.

    -- Posted by rmfarms1 on Thu, Feb 16, 2017, at 9:58 PM
  • I am CatiesDad's wife. I have filed the complaint with the IURC and ALREADY gotten an answer saying they have assigned someone to investigate. I have also registered a complaint with the Indiana Attorney General. If everyone does the same, they will do something about it.

    -- Posted by everymom on Fri, Feb 17, 2017, at 10:20 AM
  • That's great to hear, everymom. I hope you guys experience good outcomes from that and I think you're right: everyone needs to ban together to enact positive change because that's the only way this company will hear us.

    -- Posted by DouglasQuaid on Fri, Feb 17, 2017, at 12:55 PM
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