Cleco explains issue in Aug. 14 billing cycle after viral social media post by customer
PINEVILLE, La. (KALB) - A viral social media post from one Central Louisiana Cleco customer has raised a significant amount of concern among customers who experienced unusually high bills for their August billing cycle.
That post came from Dana Atwood, who was shocked to find her bill dated August 14 was $1,111.76, which turned out to be $440 more than what she was supposed to be charged.
In a comparison with her meter and paper bill, Cleco estimated the Atwood household used nearly 2,000 kilowatts more than the actual usage on their meter.
In her post, Dana called on her Facebook friends to check their Cleco bills.
Dana’s post has been shared by more than 3,000 Facebook users and received hundreds of comments. Many users indicated that they too had received high bills.
Cleco has since discussed the discrepancies with News Channel 5. They explained the process in which customers’ meters are read electronically and those readings are then sent to the billing system. According to Cleco Communications Strategist Fran Phoenix, there was a timing issue due to a quarterly maintenance check, meaning the meters were not read, and the billing system defaulted to an estimated bill.
“If a bill is estimated, it is based on history,” explained Phoenix. “The system isn’t making up numbers. It’s looking at the customer’s previous usage, previous year, previous month, and it comes up with a number.”
The issue only impacted customers in the Aug. 14 billing cycle, which is an estimated 19,000 customers. Though the estimated reading issues caught a bit more public attention this time, Phoenix acknowledged the meter system has had similar issues in the past during quarterly maintenance updates, and the company says there is a monitoring procedure in place to ensure those issues do not happen at all. That procedure failed.
”You know even the best-laid plans, sometimes processes don’t work,” said Phoenix.
The estimated bills sent out for the Aug. 14 cycle were based on customers’ August 2021 usage. Last year’s usage, however, was also an estimated usage.
At that time, KATC, an ABC affiliate in Lafayette, reported viewers in their area had seen higher bills that month from Cleco, some nearly doubled. Cleco shared with them there were three reasons the bills could be increasing: their interim storm charge, new rate schedule and fuel costs.
But with the recent issue, Cleco noted the same maintenance update issue happened to the same Aug. 14 billing cycle customers last year, and that is why they implemented a new procedure.
In her viral post, Dana noted she had been watching her usage and rates for the summer months after their “massive bill last August.”
“Billing cycle nine got hit,” said Dana. “Everybody on that billing cycle can pull up their August 2021 bill and see the read code of one to see that it’s an estimated bill. None of us were contacted.”
Dana says they paid the more than $900 bill last August, took measures to ensure energy efficiency and read their meter every three days to average out the costs.
So, after the same thing happened again on Aug. 14 of this year, the Atwoods were frustrated at the lack of communication between Cleco and their customers.
“I do wish they’d come out and said, ‘Hey, we have a problem here, and this needs to be fixed,’” said Dana’s husband, Brent Atwood. “Because a lot of people didn’t know about it. A lot of elderly people that...maybe they can’t go check their meters every time, and so you have this issue now where the public can’t trust what they’re billing you. And now you’re having to go check your meter every month. And I don’t feel like that’s fair, especially for the rate that we’re paying them.”
Cleco acknowledged they caught the “timing issue” in the system on Sunday, Aug. 14, but they had to conduct an investigation to find out what the issue was. Once they did, they went into the customers’ accounts on Aug. 19, canceled the original bills from the Aug. 14 estimated reading and rebilled customers with a true reading.
*While this issue concerned only one billing cycle, News Channel 5 has heard from numerous other Cleco customers about their bills being much higher than normal. We are continuing to cover these rising costs and will be following up on this story.
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