LIPA on Tuesday canceled a plan that would have begun migrating about 100,000 customers who get bills every other month to monthly billing, saying instead it will "survey" them to determine customer preferences.
In emails to Newsday earlier this month, LIPA initially said it planned to give all existing customers who have smart meters the option of staying with bimonthly billing "while all others will be migrated back to monthly billing."
But on Tuesday, a LIPA spokeswoman said the utility had canceled the migration, and that no automatic switch-over is planned.
The choice of keeping bimonthly billing is not being offered to customers who have opted out of smart meters, which can send usage data to LIPA at least four times a day. Some opt-out customers have expressed frustration that the utility migrated them to monthly bills without asking their preference.
LIPA, in response to Newsday questions, said it has “plans to give all existing bimonthly customers” with smart meters “the choice to inform PSEG Long Island that they want to stay on bimonthly billing, while all others who receive manual meter reads have been migrated to monthly billing."
Newsday has previously reported that customers who have opted not to have a smart meter, and are paying $11.40 a month for that option, have been irked by the utility's automatic switch to monthly billing and monthly meter reads. One ratepayer, Therese Madonia of Farmingville, told Newsday her latest bill included an inflated charge for meter reading, and a line that said the bills was based on an estimate.
"I feel like I’m in a Kafka novel," said Madonia. "I don’t understand why I was switched" to monthly bills.
LIPA said PSEG, which manages the grid under contract, is in the process of “surveying” smart-meter customers who had been receiving bills every other month about the “option to move to monthly billing” while “determining their awareness about the opportunity to move to monthly billing with an actual meter read.”
LIPA, before the rollout of smart meters over the past four years, read customers meters every other month, and used estimates based on usage history to project usage in non-read months.
Some customers told Newsday they preferred to receive bills every other month, in part to help with home budgeting. Some say they alternate paying energy and other bills during the course of the year, as charges fluctuate between heating (gas) and electric (cooling).
“When the bill comes every single month it’s another drain in your pocket when you’re getting killed with food and gas and heating-oil prices,” said Larry Mikorenda, a Middle Island customer and media consultant. “It’s easier to budget” every other month, he said, arguing that LIPA “just loves to fill its coffers.”
LIPA said the motivation isn’t based on a more regular revenue stream that comes with monthly bill payers. “There is no financial impact,” the utility said. “This is really about how best to serve customers.”
Customers who’ve opted out of smart meters wondered why they couldn’t stay on their old bimonthly meter-reading and billing cycle.
“We have chosen to serve customers with more accurate meter reads through [smart] meters as well as monthly meter reads for those [who] opt out,” LIPA said, noting that 7,646 customers who opted out of smart meters had previously opted for bimonthly billing.
What about the 100,000 other customers who previously had bimonthly bills and also have smart meters? LIPA said there are “no benefits” for customers with smart meters to receive bimonthly bills.
“In many cases, a prior customer at the residence may have opted for bimonthly billing and that election has carried over to the new customer,” LIPA said.
It’s for that reason that LIPA said PSEG will be “going through a process to evaluate customers preferences.”
Mikorenda said that he's filed a complaint with the state Department of Public Service about the switch to monthly bills and the smart-meter reading charge and that the agency told him it would investigate.
DPS spokesman James Denn said the agency has received a total of 12 complaints about the smart meter opt-out program, including complaints about the new monthly fee and the billing cycle change. Denn said there is one "active investigation ongoing into an unresolved complaint."