LIPA tackles complaints about post-Sandy bills

A sign to LIPA in Massapequa's Biltmore Shores A sign to LIPA in Massapequa's Biltmore Shores neighborhood. (Nov. 10, 2012) Photo Credit: Emily Ngo

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The Long Island Power Authority Monday unveiled a series of measures aimed at "softening the blow" of electric bills that don't account for the days or weeks customers were without power during superstorm Sandy.

The measures, including customer meter readings, suspended late payments, unpenalized partial payments and relaxed collection efforts, follow complaints from some customers that estimated bills for the past month didn't deduct days their homes or businesses were in the dark.

But not all customer gripes have been addressed, including the inclusion of a fixed service charge of 36 cents a day on bills that remains despite the outage. LIPA is considering ways to address it, an official said.

This week, the authority is sending out letters to all 1.12 million customers, alerting them to a toll-free number they can call to provide LIPA with an actual meter reading. LIPA's website, lipower.org, has a video showing customers how to read their meters. Customers can call in a meter reading to 800-490-0075.

Customers with balanced billing, with costs averaged over a year to soften months of high usage, can also call in actual meter readings to LIPA to have their usage charges reduced.

Because National Grid meter readers were assigned to other jobs in the aftermath of Sandy, all LIPA bills used estimates rather than actual meter readings during the past month.

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LIPA is also allowing customers to make partial payments on the bills for the month without penalty, and it is suspending its 1.5 percent late fee for all customers until at least January, said Chief Operating Officer Michael Hervey.

In addition, LIPA has "dramatically relaxed" its collection efforts for bills that are past due, Hervey said.

But the measures don't yet address complaints by some LIPA customers that they are still being hit with a fixed service charge for the days or weeks they were without power. The charge amounts to around 36 cents a day -- a small but nevertheless irksome charge for some.

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Rose Smith of Wantagh, who lost power for nine days after the storm, said by her estimate LIPA was raking in up to $340,000 a day on the service charge from the 945,000 customers who lost power in the earliest days. She estimates it could be more than $1.7 million for the two-week outage. "I think they should be called on this," she said.

Hervey said LIPA still has not determined how to address the fixed service charge for other customers who went without power. Customers pay $10.80 a month to be connected to the LIPA grid as part of their delivery charge. Hervey said the charge represents LIPA's fixed costs and has to be paid somehow.

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