Residents in a Santa Fe neighborhood are livid over electric bills in the spring that were two or three times their average bills. To make matters worse, they claim they didn’t receive satisfactory answers about what happened from Public Service Company of New Mexico.
PNM said errors by one meter reader affected at least 3,280 Santa Fe customers in April and May, many of whom will receive a credit on their bills soon.
The human errors occurred over a few months during the winter. Customers were undercharged on their electric bills, said Susan Sponar, PNM spokeswoman. Once the errors were discovered, PNM charged customers for the electricity they had already used but not paid for. But Sponar said that because of the additional electricity usage shown on the “catch up” bills, some customers were charged at PNM’s higher rate.
PNM has a tiered rate system. Customers who use more than a certain number of kilowatt hours in a month are charged extra for the additional power.
Sponar said those additional charges should not have applied to customers because PNM staff made the original mistake. The company will be returning about $20,000 total to Santa Fe customers as a credit on their bill of between $1.10 and $58.11. “Customers aren’t being charged for energy they didn’t use,” Sponar said. “Some portion of their bills were charged at a higher rate.”
Jennifer Stamm, a resident in the Pueblo Alegre neighborhood, is among more than a dozen who were unsatisfied with responses from PNM when they called about their high bills. Stamm said her bill in April went from $80 to $506. “That did not make any sense,” she said. “I wasn’t doing anything different.”
Pueblo Alegre was built in the 1980s, during the height of interest in efficient, passive-solar homes. Stamm said most of them still heat and cool well, keeping utility bills relatively low.
Stamm claims she called PNM five times, seeking answers, as did others in the neighborhood. They were told it was a meter reader error and that was all.
The neighbors filed a petition with the state Public Regulation Commission on May 31, asking them to investigate the overages. She said the response is that PNM would refund some money.
In an email to one resident, Jim Williamson, director of PRC’s consumer relations division, said his understanding was that “a PNM meter reader simply was not taking the time to read them, so estimated readings were used instead. The problem was when an actual meter reading did take place, the usage was higher than estimated, leading to a large ‘catch bill.’ ”
Don Moya, who also lives in the neighborhood, called PNM’s actions “egregious.” The chief financial officer for Albuquerque Public Schools, Moya said that if he made similar mistakes in payroll or charges, “I’d be on the front page, and people would be screaming for my head.”
He said his May bill was $125 for 963 kilowatt hours. His previous bills had been normal — $46 to $53. Moya said he called PNM customer service and the response from the first person he talked to was “abysmal. He was an example of what not to do in customer service.” The rep told Moya he must have left an appliance on or done something different. Moya, who has lived in the house 11 years, said he had not.
Moya asked to speak to a supervisor and was put through to voice mail. He called back again later and spoke to a “nice” representative, who said they were rechecking meters. A letter from PNM a few days later said Moya’s meter had been checked and was correct. There was nothing in the letter about the bill recouping costs for underbilled power usage or about the higher block power rate. There was also nothing about a refund. “I paid the bill,” Moya said. “They were going to cut me off.”
Moya, separately from the neighborhood petition, filed a complaint with the PRC.
Kathryn Sherlock, who has lived in Pueblo Alegre since the 1980s, said this was the first time she could remember getting bills with such high spikes. She said now she doesn’t trust that another spike won’t occur in the future and those are hard to budget for.
Stamm said some residents still question whether the final meter readings were correct. If they were correct, she wonders why the company didn’t do more to explain the spike in bills to affected customers. Sponar said all the meters were double-checked and that, “We’re confident they are now correct.”
Sponar said a number of complaints from customers launched an investigation into the issue. She wouldn’t say what happened to the meter reader who made the errors but said the issue had been “resolved.”
Sponar said customers can check their bills and their monthly usage online. She said customers have a right to be upset. “They have a right to expect accurate bills,” she said.
Contact Staci Matlock at 986-3055 or email@example.com.