WV PSC Arranges PR Events for FirstEnergy on Billing Mess

On Monday, Sept. 30, the WV PSC issued an order setting the dates for what they had previously called “public comment hearings” on FirstEnergy’s billing mess.  It turns out that these will not be public comment hearings in the usual sense of the term.

In fact, the PSC is using its regulatory process to provide a PR forum for FirstEnergy to

…provide a representative that will make a presentation at each hearing, lasting approximately one hour. The presentation should, at a minimum, discuss (i) the circumstances that gave rise to the current customer meter reading and billing problems, (ii) how the merger and severe storms in 2012 affected customer meter reading and billing, (iii) changes implemented to improve customer meter reading and billing, (iv) planned changes to improve customer meter reading and billing and (v) services available to customers continuing to experience meter reading and billing problems.

So these so-called public comment hearings aren’t about public comment at all.  You can bet the FirstEnergy “representative” will waste everyone’s time with a fancy power point slide show misrepresenting the causes of the problems and diverting attention away from the fact that FirstEnergy lied to the PSC when it told the Commission two years ago that its swallowing of Allegheny Energy would result in better and cheaper service.

Of course, the PSC itself failed when it approved that merger, so it has a vested interest in helping FirstEnergy present its propaganda.  The Commissioners are continuing the PSC staff’s past practice of portraying the problem as one of individual consumers instead of a systematic failure.  The recent order goes on to require FirstEnergy to

… arrange for its representative(s) to have access to customer records at each hearing to the extent possible and be available to speak with customers individually after the completion of public comment. FirstEnergy must also file a written report within fifteen days of the public comment hearings describing any steps taken to remediate individual problems raised at the comment hearings.

We know from FirstEnergy’s own testimony in the PSC investigation that the primary causes of the billing mess derived from a failed attempt to revamp billing and meter reading practices and cuts in meter reading positions.  There were no misunderstandings between individual customers and FirstEnergy.  FirstEnergy simply stopped reading meters as often as they are required to by the company’s legally authorized rate tariffs.

The other aspect of the order that is disturbing is the limited number and location of the public comment hearings.  Both the PSC’s Consumer Advocate Division and the Commission’s order seem to think that the best way to determine locations for public comment hearings is in areas from which people have already filed written comments in this PSC investigation.

If the real purpose of these so-called hearings is to mollify people with company propaganda in areas that have complained the most, then the idea of holding hearings in Fairmont and Shepherdstown probably makes sense.  But if the Commission is interested in hearing from people who have not yet spoken up or complained about FirstEnergy’s billing disaster, shouldn’t the Commission schedule hearings in other areas of FirstEnergy’s WV service territory, instead of just its far northern and eastern areas?  And isn’t it odd that two of the hearings are scheduled in Fairmont where FirstEnergy has most of its WV offices?

A quick glance at FirstEnergy’s WV service area shows how far people would have to travel to comment at these hearings.  The Fairmont meeting is a good two hours’ drive from my home in Calhoun County.  How far would it be from Elizabeth or Hinton?

The one good thing about these public hearings, for people who can go, is that you will get to talk face to face with FirstEnergy employees about the mess they created with your electric bill.

Here is the schedule of hearings –

October 23, 2013 – 5:30 p.m.
Location:  Shepherd University, Frank Center, Shepherdstown, WV
October 24, 2013 – 9:30 a.m.
Location:  Shepherd University, Frank Center, Shepherdstown, WV

October 24, 2013 – 5:30 p.m.
Location:  West Chester Village, Stafford Room, Fairmont, WV
October 25, 2013 – 9:30 a.m.
Location:  West Chester Village, Stafford Room, Fairmont, WV

There is already a community information meeting about the FirstEnergy billing mess scheduled for October 16 at 6:30 pm at Fishermen Hall in Charles Town to prepare for the FirstEnergy/PSC hearings in Shepherdstown.  There will likely be other meetings scheduled soon in northern WV.

Although we here in WV’s black hole were left out of the PSC’s public hearing/propaganda plans, there will also be community meetings in central WV as well.

I’ll keep you up to date on those meetings here at The Power Line, so keep checking back here.  One thing is certain, no one will waste your time with FirstEnergy propaganda at the community information meetings.

4 thoughts on “WV PSC Arranges PR Events for FirstEnergy on Billing Mess

  1. Fishermen Hall — not a mall! Thanks for bringing up a whole bunch of issues I haven’t quite committed to writing…

    Face-to-face with Potomac Edison’s customer service staff? Does the PSC really think that’s wise in the wake of the fella that threatened to go to Pot Ed’s office and shoot everyone he sees just a couple weeks ago? If that makes me nervous, those unhelpful, rude and arrogant telephone operators must be wetting their pants right about now. I hope the PSC is going to have airport-style security at the entrance so that we can all safely enjoy rolling our eyes and making faces at Toad Meyers for an hour.

    Fairmont being home to FE’s call center. Does this mean that FE is going to try to stack the deck with paid shills signing up to compliment the company? After all, FE’s been getting some real lessons in the art of shill recruitment from my blog lately.

    And all this reminds me… I’ve got a phone call to make! Woohoo!!! Forgot about that…

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