HAYWARD (KPIX) — If you think your PG&E bill is high, meet John Graves.
Back in January, the single dad from Hayward got a utility bill for $645.
“I called them (PG&E) right away,” Graves told ConsumerWatch.
But, he says the utility representative couldn’t provide a good explanation.
“They said they went to a new tier,” Graves said.
The next month, Graves’ bill soared to more than $800. The month after that, it came to $1,568. Graves says he’s been struggling to pay them.
“I’m sending them close to nine to twelve hundred dollars a month,” he said.
Graves immediately suspected his smart meter. “I think the meter’s malfunctioning,” he told ConsumerWatch.
That’s a common response.
Back in 2010, PG&E confirmed more than 43,000 of its smart meters had issues that could affect their accuracy. In 2011, then-head of the Public Utility Commission, Michael Peavy, reportedly suspected the smart meter at his vacation home was to blame for the doubling of his power bill.
But in both Peavy’s and Graves’ cases, PG&E says the smart meter is not to blame. Even the utility watchdog group TURN acknowledges most smart meter concerns have been addressed. “I think a lot has been done to make sure the smart meters are working correctly,” said Ana Montes, of the Utility Reform Network.
Montes says years of rate increases are now largely to blame for a spike in billing complaints. “The rates are just really high,” she said.
Montes says customers should check their bills for accuracy. The easiest way is to compare your overall electricity usage from year to year. “Look at the therms, not the cost,” she said. Any increase in usage of more than 25 percent could be a red flag. Suddenly moving into a new usage tier is also cause for concern. “If you were normally in one and two and you jump to three or four,” that could also be a sign something is amiss, she says.
So what happened in Graves’ case?
At ConsumerWatch’s request, both TURN and PG&E examined Graves’ bills and came to the same conclusion: his eligibility for two discount programs — CARE and Medical Baseline — had lapsed and Graves was being billed the non-discounted price for his electricity.
“You’re supposed to re-certify for these programs every one or two years,” Montes explained.
PG&E says its representatives did alert Graves to the lapse, something he disputes. Nevertheless, the utility retroactively restored Graves’ enrollment in the programs and has forgiven $5,000 in outstanding debt.
The utility is also offering to perform an energy audit of Graves’ home to trace the source of his large bills. The company told KPIX: “We take our customers’ concerns very seriously and we are here to help.”
Graves says he is ecstatic.
TURN says customers who believe they are being overcharged should file a complaint with both the utility and the Public Utilities Commission. “It’s your right to question your bill,” Montes said.
The Utility Reform Network: http://turn.org
Public Utilities Commission: http://consumers.cpuc.ca.gov/complaint