Monday, March 11, 2013

Discrepancies Over Billing During Hurricane Sandy Power Outages

New Jersey residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the force of Hurricane Sandy have begun to receive utility bills that reflect power usage that would have been flat-out impossible, considering not only the power outages, but also the fact that many of the homes and businesses were uninhabitable after the storm.

Many New Jersey residents are reporting utility bills that don’t seem to reflect the amount of power that is being used. In fact, many of these bills from Jersey Central Power & Light seem to be grossly inflated, since the residences for which the power usage was estimated were knocked from the foundations and therefore uninhabitable[1].

The billing practice for Jersey Central Power & Light (as well as other power companies) is to estimate the amount of power that should have been used during a particular time frame and bill the customer based on that assessment. What JCP & L failed to take into account was that the amount of power used by many New Jersey inhabitants post-hurricane was significantly less than what it ordinarily would have been. A woman who lives in Seaside Park received a series of utility bills from the months of October through February for the same pre-hurricane amount, only she hadn’t been in her home in two months. When she contacted JCP & L, she was told by a service representative that the billing would take approximately 30 days to resolve.

JCP & L has told residents who have received erroneous bills that they are free to call their help line for assistance, but hasn’t yet issued a statement regarding the billing practices. Recently, JCP & L announced their plans to implement a 4.5 percent rate increase in order to pay for the restoration and repair of the utility lines that had fallen during the storm.

It is estimated that 10,000 homes in Ocean County are still unoccupied, and many of the owners are still receiving estimated utility bills.

The inaccurate bills, combined with the intent to raise the rates, have caused outrage among many New Jersey residents, who don’t believe that the service that they received after the storm merited a rate hike.
Power wasn’t fully restored for weeks after the storm for many home and business owners, and the communication within the utility company was so poor that the field representatives didn’t even know where the outages were, in spite of local officials notifying of the locations. According to Robbinsville Mayor David Fried, many officials will try to appeal the rate hike request, and try to lobby for the option of choosing the power company for the region, rather than having a power supplier assigned without negotiation.

[1] Friedman, Alexi: Some Hurricane Sandy-Affected Residents Report ‘Wildly Inaccurate’ Electric Bills 3/4/2013 The Star Ledger

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