Energy bill meeting gets heated
By JESSICA SAVAGE @ The Daily Sentinel
Thursday, March 15, 2007
ZAVALLA — Tempers flared, emotions ran high and a few curse words were uttered as more than 100 area residents packed Zavalla City Hall Thursday night to voice concerns over high energy bills.
Representatives from TXU Electric Delivery, TXU Energy, Stream Energy and two state legislators' offices addressed questions in an open forum lasting more than three hours.
In an article that ran in Monday's edition of The Daily Sentinel, several Zavalla residents said their energy usage had doubled and, in some cases, tripled since TXU Delivery installed digital meters three months ago.
Joan and Hubert Roebuck received an electricity bill for $1,111.79 this month.
"It's a bunch of malarkey. That is just impossible ... It's outrageous," said Joan Roebuck in an interview last week.
Not one representative at the meeting could explain why.
But representatives from TXU Delivery assured consumers the meters are accurate.
"We feel good about the meters," said Chris Shine, a representative of TXU Delivery, in an interview hours before the town meeting.
He and David Collier, TXU area manager for Angelina and Nacogdoches counties, said the recent backlash is stemming from misinformation and confusion.
"The meter has fallen victim because it is the most tangible thing to blame," Shine said in an earlier interview. "Consumers need to look at rates. They have gone up."
Shine dispelled rumors that digital meters are calculating usage higher than the mechanical meters had.
"One is not more accurate," he said.
He compared the difference of mechanical and digital meter to that of a car odometer. No matter if a vehicle reads the rate of speed digitally or mechanically, both give the same output, he said.
As the meeting progressed, consumers grew more agitated, insisting digital meters are to blame.
"Obviously (the problem) is related to meter usage ... Rate is irrelevant. It's consumption that needs to be evaluated," said Fred Graham of Nacogdoches. "If (the problem) were isolated you wouldn't have a meeting of this size."
One man in the audience seemed satisfied after he reached an agreement with TXU Delivery to have his meter removed and tested by an independent company. Of course, he and TXU Delivery had to agree on which company could test the device.
Others voiced concern about how they were going to afford the electricity bill until the problem is resolved.
"We cannot afford to live if we have to pay those bills," said one woman. "What are you going to do if we have to shut down our entire town because we can't afford the bills?"
Representatives from TXU Energy, a retail provider, handled its customers' complaints one by one at the meeting. Those not able to be at the meeting are asked to call the company and request a payment plan until the meter issue is resolved.
A representative from Stream Energy attempted to calm customers.
"We're working with TXU closely to figure out what we can do," said Trei Henri.
One statement in Monday's article was inaccurate. TXU Delivery officials said the company is currently conducting an internal audit of its 80,000 digital meters recently installed in Angelina and Nacogdoches counties. The audit is expected to ensure county residents and businesses are receiving accurate billing information regarding their usage. Two-thirds of the audit is complete.
"I don't think you should monitor yourselves," said one man at the meeting.
Preliminary results show some customers have been billed for the usage of other customers. TXU Delivery said the glitch, as it refers to as crossed meters, is not widespread.
"There have been a few incidents, but not many," Collier said. He did not know, off-hand, how many customers had fallen victim to crossed meters. In a previous interview, Collier said the number of crossed meters discovered was not many.
Susan Sowards, district director for state representative Jim McReynolds' office, and Dawn Glover of Sen. Robert Nichols office attended the meeting to offer a local support network for constituents unsure of how to file complaints.
Recent TXU news
On Monday, the Public Utility Commission of Texas released a report by Potomac Economics Ltd., which said TXU Corp. manipulated wholesale energy prices, causing electricity rates to rise 15.5 percent in 2005. The energy giant earned $20 million in profits off the $70 million it collected from consumers during a four-month summer period that year, the report stated.
TXU Corp. recently reported it earned a 33-percent increase in profits for its fourth-quarter results on Feb. 28, despite mild winter weather and lower than average consumer usage. Its net income grew to $475 million from $356 million in the year-earlier quarter, according to a report from The Associated Press. The company has attributed its improved results to lower operating costs.
The company has recently agreed to a $32 billion buyout led by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and Texas Pacific Group. The transaction could take six to nine months to be approved by shareholders and federal regulators, Collier said.
To file a complaint
Information from the Public Utility Commission of Texas advised energy consumers to do the following before filing a complaint with the commission.
* First, contact your electric or telephone company. Provide the company with a detailed description of the problem and all the necessary facts. The company should investigate your concern and let you know what action it plans to take.
* Then, if you do not hear from the company within a reasonable time, or if you are not satisfied with the company's action, you can file a complaint with the Customer Protection Division at the PUC.
To file a complaint: call 1-888-782-8477 or 512-936-7120; send a fax to 1-512-936-7003; or visit http://www.puc.state.tx.us/ocp/complaints/filing.cfm.
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