Thousands of Washington-area customers are still grappling with staggering increases in their monthly utility bills.
Despite promising “a real level of customer responsiveness” after a previous double-digit spike, an aggressive rate increase by Pepco appears to be continuing with sizable pay hikes for some customers and several thousand receiving nary a bill.
The lack of communication and the hardship caused by the costs is starting to inflame residents, utility executives, union employees and regulators alike.
“We are working hard to keep up with our customer needs,” said Pepco spokeswoman Teresa Carlson in an emailed statement. “We believe it is important to provide bills as soon as possible so our customers can understand their increase, including savings they may be eligible for. Unfortunately, there is a lag between the call for our assistance and when it arrives.”
From October 2017 to June 2018, 1,000 customers have received notice from Pepco that they are eligible for help with utility bills, according to the Public Service Commission. Other 1,500 received no such notice.
So far, more than 38,000 Pepco customers have received notices of assistance that total $8.3 million.
The problems aren’t limited to Washington. In Delaware, consumers and unions in June took steps to block a planned rate increase by the company for natural gas and electricity, complaining it was overdue and causing a backlog in billing. That action ended up with the utilities’ parent company, New York state utility Consolidated Edison, granting an $82 million rate reduction and only costs of new construction being included.
An Associated Press analysis of the rate proposals from Dominion Virginia Power, Pepco, Delmarva Power and Delmarva Light found, in general, that the proposed rates, while well below the doubling of 2012, would still mean large increases.
“Notwithstanding the big increases, you still see these customers having bills they can’t pay,” said former National Regulatory Research Institute head Douglas Elliott. “We’re still going to have a problem if these increases don’t stabilize.”
The potential outsize financial burdens on low-income customers have already pushed utility unions into action. A new joint campaign by Service Employees International Union Local 721 and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has raised questions about the high bills and boosted the estimates of some customers, who say they have received bills more than double what they were paying in 2012.
Among the many questions on the boil-water advisory list for affected customers: Who should pay for gas at least for some customers? Also, how come the utilities refuse to disclose the actual exposure or rate of carbon monoxide from unregulated utility wood burning stoves?