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As PSEG August bills arrive, customers scrutinize charges post-Isaias

A joint crew comprised of PSEG and contractors

A joint crew comprised of PSEG and contractors work on downed powerlines along Bread and Cheese Hollow Rd. in Fort Salonga on Aug. 6 after a tree knocked them down during Tropical Storm Isaias.  Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Some PSEG customers have been surprised to see their August bills include a daily service fee for days they were without power following Tropical Storm Isaias.

The 42 cents a day charge covers costs other than those to bring power to customer homes, PSEG Long Island said in explaining why the daily fee was not waived for the more than 420,000 customers with no electricity for up to 11 days after the Aug. 4 storm.

Some customers aren’t happy.

“That is totally crazy that they can do that,” said Heather Morrison of Smithtown, whose power was out for five days. “I mean, come on. How much more money are they going to get out of us?”

She noted that the amount adds up “to a lot when they bill every single customer” that didn’t have service after the storm.

PSEG spokeswoman Elizabeth Flagler said while customers aren’t getting billed for power over that period, the daily service charge is “nominal” and covers things other than usage.

“The service charge will be billed for the storm period,” she confirmed, in a written statement. “The service charge is a nominal amount collected to support customer billing,” such as intake of customer meter reads, calculating, printing and mailing PSEG bills and the call center for assistance with billing inquiries.

Flagler said most of the cost for electricity is reflected in the power supply and delivery charge portion of bills, which directly correlate to the amount of energy used.

“If a customer did not use electricity, there will not be a charge for those portions of the bill,” Flagler said.

The Department of Public Service, which is conducting an investigation of PSEG’s response to the storm and has already issued a notice of apparent violation for its communication and outage management system problems, indicated Wednesday that it looking at the question of bill credits. The Department previously worked with PSEG to establish a protocol for giving customers credits for spoiled food and medicine resulting from the storm, the first time that’s happened for Long island customers. In the past LIPA has not offered credits for basic service charges for days without power. 

DPS spokesman James Denn said the agency is “conducting a thorough investigation and all enforcement options are on the table. In the past,” he emphasized, “settlements have included bill credits to ratepayers.”

The Department of Public Service noted that fixed service charges  "cover utilities’ fixed expenses that exist no matter how much consumption there is on the system.”

When there’s an outage, the agency said, “customers across the state are still charged the monthly fixed charge, but do not pay volumetric charges when they are without power because they are not consuming any electricity.”

One ratepayer who lost power for five days after Isaias indicated on Thursday that her persistence in refusing to pay the basic service fee apparently has paid off. Lynn Kiraly of Huntington said she was originally told by a PSEG rep that she would not be charged the fee, but when a recent bill came, she noticed she was charged 42 cents a day for the entire 29-day billing cycle.

After three calls and being put on hold for around a half-hour, Kiraly said, a PSEG rep told her she would receive a credit for the five days service fees, $2.10. She said she’s told the 63 other homeowners in her association to check their bills and demand the same.

“It’s not the $2.10,” she said of her promised credit. “It’s the fact that they [PSEG] did this to how many people thinking that it would be too small to bother with?”

Kiraly expressed little confidence that the outage problems will end soon, and. in fact, her power was out for more than four hours Thursday morning. It was restored briefly, then went out again while she spoke to a reporter.

The Department of Public Service noted that its investigation is ongoing.

“Based on the findings of the ongoing investigation, more action may be taken, and any further financial penalty/consequence paid by PSEG Long Island will be for the benefit of ratepayers,” the agency said.

Ratepayers have also been griping that PSEG did indeed bill them for periods when service was out. Spokeswoman Ashley Chauvin said the reason is because bills may have been estimated for the days PSEG could not get to a home to read the meter.

“Bills are often generated from an estimated meter read and are always rectified on future bills once the actual meter data is obtained,” she said. “While a ratepayer may pay more one month, any overages paid would be accounted for on the next month’s bill.”

Chauvin said she had responded to a customer who complained that he’d received a second bill for more than $350 just weeks after paying a prior bill for a slightly higher amount, and after being without power for several days. “In this instance, the customer’s payment posted after the corrected bill was prepared and mailed which explains why it was not reflected on the corrected bill,” Chauvin said. “The following bill would be adjusted accordingly.”

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