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Friday, Sep 19, 2014

Duke Energy saps customers, senator says


Published:   |   Updated: August 22, 2014 at 07:33 AM

— Duke Energy officials say the longer billing cycle and higher rates appearing on thousands of customers’ bills this month are a one-time hassle that will make business more efficient as they change travel routes for power meter reading.

Florida Sen. Jack Latvala on Thursday accused the utility of cashing in on 267,000 customers whose bills could be lengthened by up to 12 days during one of the hottest months of the year.

“Although it may be legal for utility companies to squeeze additional money from customers in this manner, it certainly isn’t moral,” the Clearwater Republican wrote in a letter to Duke President Alexander Glenn.

The utility maintains the change in billing is industry standard practice as workers change their meter-reading routes to cut down on travel.

The side effect for customers is the shift in dates will mean the number of days on their next bill could exceed the typical 24-31 day cycle.

While some customers will have a shorter billing cycle, the added days for others could drive their electricity usage above the standard usage rate of $11.34 per 100 kilowatt hours.

After surpassing 1,000, the rate goes up to $13.70 per 100 kilowatt hours, which could add up quickly in a month of constant air conditioning use.

“Almost 60 percent of the customers in Pinellas County won’t see any change. They’ll either have a bill that has fewer days on it or a normal bill,” said Duke spokesman Sterling Ivey, adding that the irregular cycle will only appear on one bill. “The remaining 40 percent will have a bill that might have extended days on it.”

Ivey said the utility sought to avoid hitting customers with the bigger bills during the holiday season.

“There was just no way to avoid some of the peak times of hot weather,” he said.

Customers with concerns about their bill are encouraged to call Duke to work out a payment plan if they can’t afford to pay all at once, Ivey said.

The billing change is permitted under state rules governed by the Public Service Commission, he said.

Latvala called upon the utility to “abandon” the higher rates for customers that exceed normal usage during the transition just because their bill includes more days.

“I hope you will agree that such a practice is unfair and unreasonable, even if it is allowed by current state regulations,” said Latvala, who is running for re-election in north Pinellas State Senate District 20.

Duke officials will be reviewing the letter, Ivey said.

“We look forward to responding and talking to the senator about our meter re-route project,” he said.

For more information on the Duke Energy billing changes, visit: www.duke-energy.com/ billingupdate

jboatwright@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-1277

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