Recently a guest contributor wrote in this blog about a problem I have with the electric company here (Florida Power & Light… FPL). I have received a reply from the company, and the following is the e-mail exchange that I had with their ‘Corporate Resolution Specialist’ Latoya Hall:
Thursday, November 17, 2011 4:13 PM
Dear Ms. Hall,I am afraid that due to continued financial difficulties I had to ask for help from LIHEAP once again. They generously agreed to pay both the past due amount and the next months’ bill (Nov. 2011) – a total of $210.93. I was very relieved by this as I’m disabled and have medication at home (Humira) that must be continuously refrigerated. Then I received my statement for Dec. 2011 and was dismayed to realize that assistance agency payments are still NOT being treated like any other payments. My bill for Dec. is over $180 and only $93 of that is for electric service. I understand that by calling LIHEAP payments “commitments” (as though there were some chance that FPL wouldn’t get their money) you can legally discriminate against your poor customers in this way. That understanding does not change the fact that this is at best discriminatory, and at worst predatory. Why should anything be tacked on to my bill solely because I am on a fixed income and need help to pay my energy bills? Do you realize how much actual suffering these discriminatory practices cause? How many of your neediest customers are living in the dark tonight because they had to ask for LIHEAP money? How many have thousands of dollars worth of medication in their refrigerator spoiling right now because as soon as they received a little help, FPL hit them with a huge increase in their bill the following month? Does this ever occur to the people at your company responsible for these policies, even while they promote FPL’s supposed ‘community partnership’? What does “Care to Share” mean to them, who obviously couldn’t care less or share less? I’m sure you are all very nice people, but your company’s policies sadly don’t reflect that.
(Note: “Care to Share” is a program that collects contributions from customers and – supposedly – distributes them through the assistance agencies.)
Tuesday, November 22, 2011 4:15 PM
Dear Mr. Gomez,
I apologize for the delay in responding to your e-mail. Today I received additional correspondence from the Florida Public Service Commission and will respond to your inquiry in another e-mail. The following is a response to your e-mail dated November 17, 2011.
I am glad to hear of the help extended to you through December 30, 2011. I also want to take this opportunity to explain FPL is very concerned about the impact the current economic crisis is having on our customers and is committed to helping our customers.
Presently, your account has a balance of $388.26. Please note your account is protected from collection action for the $210.93 commitment received from the agency pending receipt of the payment. Once the payment is received from the agency, it will be applied towards your account. As a courtesy, I credited $3.12 in late payment charges leaving a remaining $177.33 balance due by December 9, 2011.
I hope this information is helpful. Please do not hesitate to contact me for any further questions or concerns.
Corporate Resolution Specialist
Thursday, December 8, 2011 2:21 PM
Dear Mr. Gomez:
This e-mail is in response to the concerns expressed to the Florida Public Service Commission on November 22, 2011.
Mr. Gomez, the account was not removed from the Budget Bill program due to a promise to pay from an Assist agency. Rather, on November 8, 2011, due to a 60-day past due balance, the account was removed from the Budget Bill program. In addition, as previously advised a commitment to pay is a promise to pay, therefore, it is not treated as a payment. In some cases, after a promise to pay is received from an Assist agency, a payment may not be received.
In addition, your recommendations regarding the Budget Billing program and Assist agency commitments were referred to management. However, at this time, there is no scheduled date to implement changes to the program.
FPL values your opinion and comments. If I may ever be of assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me at 1 (800) 397-6544 extension 11.
Thursday, December 8, 2011 4:16 PM
First of all, yes – my account certainly was removed from Budget Billing because my payment in October 2011 was made by an assistance agency (on October 26th, when my bill was 16 days past due, not 60). Furthermore, I had made a payment arrangement that only expired on the 23rd of October: 3 days before the assistance agency informed your company that my October and November bills would be paid ($210.93). LIHEAP funds are disbursed to the accounts of your (most destitute) customers after the money is allotted to the agency; applications aren’t even accepted when those funds run out. So the reason you allow these agencies to take their time in paying you is that there is virtually no risk of non-payment once the ‘commitment’ has been made, and you know that. My bill has never been 60 days late because I have never been given 60 days to pay any bill, so my service would have been interrupted, and you know that hasn’t happened – ever. FPL would obviously never give any customer as long to pay as they give these assistance agencies, and that’s reasonable because the company knows it’s going to get its LIHEAP money. To count the extension given to the agency against the customer (by calling it a commitment and deeming the account ‘past due’) may not be illegal, but that’s only because the Florida PSC works for FPL, not for the people of Florida, and everybody knows that. Sure, it’s legal…but it’s still wrong. Oh, and, by the way, Merry Christmas to you, too.
I attempted to include a copy of my complaint to the Florida Public Service Commission, but the “Complaint Tracking Number” they gave me at the time was only 5 digits long and their “Complaint Tracking System” requires 7 digits, suspiciously enough. I am now filing with the Office of the Public Counsel, which supposedly oversees the Florida PSC. I did attempt to find a Federal regulator of state utilities, and a Google search led me to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Below is their response to a copy of the complaint referenced above:
From: Mark Hershfield Mark.Hershfield@ferc.gov
Sent: Thursday, December 8, 2011 4:22 PM
Subject: RE: Your Inquiry to the Florida Public Service Commission
I am sorry to hear about your situation, but this agency does not have the authority to intervene in a matter that falls within the jurisdiction of the FL Public Service Commission. I am sorry I cannot be of assistance.
Office of External Affairs
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
Your tax dollars at work, in the service of the corporate 1%.
- FPL cheats poor customers (Part 1) (ghostlizard.wordpress.com)