Higher power and water bills post Hurricane Irma? Utilities telling homeowners not to worry

Customers may see higher utility bills post-Irma
Posted at 3:01 AM, Sep 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-22 12:02:16-04

Some homeowners are concerned their power bill is higher than normal this month. They say it is higher even though they lost power and water during Hurricane Irma. Many utility companies in the Tampa Bay area say homeowners are not crazy, it could be a miscalculation.

The billing was estimated in many areas because crews were unable to get out and accurately read meters during the hurricane.

Julie Volpe was hit hard by Irma. The hurricane shorted out her homes electrical circuit, killing all kinds of appliances which she is paying for out of pocket after not meeting her insurance deductible.

“Our house took a direct hit, our electrical. It's been a little stressful," Volpe said. "It's taking out all of our electronics and appliances, hot water, power, so we are still working on that and trying to make it through."

Bills are the last thing on her mind until reading a disclaimer on the City of St. Pete’s website:

"Your utility bill has been estimated due to the inability to obtain an accurate meter reading during Hurricane Irma. Beginning next month, your utility bill will be adjusted to reflect your corrected usage. If you have questions about your bill, contact City Utilities Customer Service at 727-893-7341."

Her friend checked online. The amount due for her energy bill was shocking.

"She did look ahead at one of her bills and it was triple,” said Volpe.

Duke Energy says it is putting a hold on late payment charges and extending non-pay disconnects. If you get an incorrect bill in the mail, throw it out and wait for the correct one to arrive:

The hurricane forced the company to stop all standard meter readings, which means some customers will receive estimated bills. The next month’s meter reading will determine a customer’s actual amount owed.

Duke Energy apologizes for any confusion and inconvenience this might cause.   

Late payment fees will not be applied for the next month to give customers time to recover from the storm.

Customers who have questions or need additional help with their bill can call 800.700.8744.

Other utility companies say if you pay more this month than you were supposed to, they will deduct that amount from your next bill. That is the case for folks getting their water from Pinellas County Utilities:

Due to the storm Pinellas County Utilities had to estimate approximately 7,000 of our customers.  The way they estimate is they look at the last 3 billing cycles (6 months usage) for each customer and average the 3 bills. Once the sections that were estimated are read, the next billing cycle will be adjusted.

Volpe does not believe they should have to front the money.

"It's a hardship for people if it's on automatic pay their going to get this taken out of their account and they're already suffering from all their losses so it's a concern,” Volpe said.

If you are unsure whether your company estimated your bill, call them directly. Polk County Utilities says it does not estimate meter readings, it only bills off the electronic readings.

Hillsborough County writes:

Yes, we were forced to estimate some bills post Irma.  Our business processes and system configuration allows for “System Estimates.” We plan to continue estimating some accounts until we have made a full and satisfactory recovery. The estimated verbiage does show on the bill.  The estimation process is as follows:
System looks back to the same month one year ago (for the same customer) and uses that consumption.
·        If there is no read for this customer a year ago, the system will use the current year's prior month actual usage to estimate.
o   Example:  If estimating the August 2017 read, and the same customer did not start service with us at a later date say January 2017, the system will use the July 2017 usage for the estimate.
Estimated bills are used mainly when we are unable to obtain a meter reading be it from flooding, obstructions etc.  As always, if a customer has concerns, they should contact our office and will review each case for a satisfactory resolution.  We have not experienced any unusual call volume in regards to the estimated billings. We had one SR/CRM yesterday regarding the customer’s estimated reading and we resolved the issue today with the customer and a new bill will be sent out tomorrow.  All collection efforts and late fees have been suspended at this time.  Bill messages and post card messages have been developed to let customers know that we are not charging late fees for late payments. Customers are encouraged to call and make payment arrangements if needed