PARKERSBURG - Officials with Mon Power will eventually have the personnel available to do monthly meter readings for its West Virginia customers following a ruling from the Public Service Commission of West Virginia, officials said.
The PSC this week issued a final order in the general investigation into the meter reading, billing and customer service practices of the FirstEnergy subsidiaries Mon Power and Potomac Edison Co. The order directs the companies to implement monthly meter reading and billing as quickly as possible, but no later than July 1, 2015, according to a press release issued by the PSC.
Todd Meyers, a spokesman for First Energy which is the parent company of Mon Power, said the company was ordered to go from bi-monthly meter readings to monthly readings.
The company has been doing bi-monthly readings for a number of years with an estimate done in the other months based on past usage, Meyers said. The company was able to keep track of usage and make up for any discrepancies when a reading was done.
"You were charged for the amount you used," he said.
With the derecho and impacts from Hurricane Sandy in 2012, meter reading was not able to keep on track as personnel were diverted into doing other work during those emergencies causing additional estimates to be done.
"We had periods where 3-4 estimates were done in a row," Meyers said.
When another reading was done, there were times when the catch-up in costs was big and caused a lot of concern for customers, he said.
The PSC initiated the general investigation in June 2013 after receiving numerous customer complaints relating to the frequency and methods used to read meters and estimate customer bills, according to the press release.
The commission held a series of public comment hearings, including two in the territory of each operating company, and an evidentiary hearing in Charleston.
"At that time the commission stressed that the purpose of the general investigation was to focus on the practices, policies and procedures in place at Mon Power and PE and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses at a structural level," the release said.
The companies are being required to maintain adequate staff to perform monthly readings, including rovers and to backfill absences; and to continue to submit monthly statistical metrics to the commission through Dec. 31, 2015.
Meyers said they are in the "beginning steps" to meet the commission's requirements.
"It is going to take time," he said. "We are working internally to make the system better."
People are told that if a bill's amount comes as a big surprise, they can call a customer service line to discuss their concerns and work out a payment plan.
The company is planning to hire more meter readers, expecting to almost double its meter reading staff of 60.
Mon Power has not had a base rate increase in five years.
They will be applying to the PSC for a rate increase taking into account the added expense of more meter readers.
"We will do what we need to do to read meters on a monthly basis," Meyers said.
Mon Power and PE serve 520,000 customers in 37 West Virginia counties.