PSEG works to even out balanced billing

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PSEG Long Island this summer has been resetting and reducing the balanced-billing payments of nearly all participating customers following a winter of sometimes-sharp increases in the customer program designed to alleviate price spikes.

At the same time, PSEG said it is working to reduce the frequency of changes in the program by resetting the parameters that trigger bill changes. The plan would put PSEG's balanced-billing program in line with other utilities, a spokesman said.

In June and July, 255,138 customers saw their balanced-billing amounts reduced, PSEG spokesman Jeff Weir said. This month, the utility expects to reduce the monthly payments of another large group of customers -- and 95 percent of the remaining 131,152 will see reductions.

The company wasn't able to specify how much bills were declining, but the reductions follow three months of power-supply-charge decreases on standard bills, including a 20 percent drop this month.

Just under half of LIPA's 1.1 million customers, around 480,000, participate in the balanced-billing program, which aims to stem sharp bill increases by averaging the total annual cost in 12 equal payments. Only when a customer's monthly bill changes by 10 percent or more, as happened this winter, will the payments adjust at other times.

Weir said the company is considering a change that would trigger an adjustment in the monthly bill amount following a change of more than $25.

Some customers complained the adjustment triggers led to drastic overcollections, particularly if they reduced their usage as the power supply charge spiked, as they did this winter.

Dominick Speziale, a science teacher from Hewlett, said he quit the balanced-billing program this summer after months of what he saw as exorbitant overcharges, and a threat to turn off his power.

He signed up for balanced billing in November with a $99 monthly payment, but it jumped to $120 by January, he said. His usage was minimal, and he quickly found himself accumulating a large credit balance in his favor.

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He stopped paying in the spring, thinking PSEG would use his credit to pay off the artificially high balance. PSEG instead threatened him with a shut-off, he said. The saga ended this month when he decided to return to 60-day billing.

"My bill was astronomically higher than my actual usage," he said. "I paid over 50 percent more than I owed." By July, he said, he'd been billed $1,030, even though his usage to date amounted to $733. Worse, he was hit with late fees despite having a credit balance. "It's like adding insult to injury," he said.

Weir said the company realized the current system had limitations, and that's why PSEG was making changes.

At present, the balanced-billing system averages three changes a year, he said, fluctuations that are largely the result of LIPA's changeover two years ago to monthly power-supply charges.

"We are actively working to implement changes that will stabilize the program and ultimately stabilize what a customer's balanced bill will be for the entire billing year," he said.

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