PSC questions Cleco on August billing issue, why CEO and President did not attend meeting

PSC questions Cleco on August billing issue, why CEO and President did not attend meeting
Published: Sep. 21, 2022 at 5:56 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 21, 2022 at 6:31 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (KALB) - On Wednesday, Sept. 21, the Louisiana Public Service Commission held its monthly board meeting at the Galvez Building in Baton Rouge. One of the items on a lengthy agenda included a discussion related to Cleco’s Aug. 14 billing cycle error, under the request of District 4 Commissioner Mike Francis.

In an explanation provided to News Channel 5 on Aug. 24, they explained the process in which customers’ meters are read electronically and those readings are then sent to the billing system, which was undergoing a quarterly maintenance check on Aug. 14. The system defaulted to an estimated usage reading, which an estimated 18,000 customers on cycle 9 were billed for the following day.

The billing error blew up in a social media post by one Cleco customer, which gained more than 3,000 shares by Facebook users and received hundreds of comments from customers complaining of high bills.

Commissioners at Wednesday’s meeting say they have felt the impact of the issue and customer complaints within their own inboxes and offices. The commissioners let those complaints be known to John Shirley and Andre Guillory, Cleco’s vice president and chief customer officer. However, they also let the Cleco representatives know they were disappointed they were not able to address Cleco’s CEO Bill Fontenot or President Shane Hilton directly.

Several commissioners asked where Fontenot and Hilton were and why they were not the ones addressing the LPSC. Shirley explained that since the LPSC’s meeting was moved from Sept. 14 to Sept. 21, it created a conflict with a previously scheduled board meeting. Shirley said they were unable to move the Cleco board meeting, due to many of the board members being located out of the Central Louisiana area, where the meeting was held.

Francis said he believed “this board meeting is more important than the one they’re at today,” saying he expected their attendance.

Francis had previously urged Cleco executives to come forward and address the public on the billing issue, even suggesting an executive should address the public “in live and living color” on News Channel 5. He claimed the “computer glitch” has become a regular excuse from several utility providers.

Cleco responded to Francis’s complaints regarding the executives not being in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting, saying, “While Mr. Fontenot and Mr. Hilton had prior commitments, Mr. Guillory fulfilled Cleco’s commitment to address the Commission and answer questions.” They said Fontenot and Hilton were both scheduled to be in attendance at the LPSC meeting, along with Guillory, until the meeting was moved to Sept. 21.

”A lot of my clients, customers, they say, ‘Well, this is a monopoly. We need another choice, you know,’” Francis told Cleco representatives. “If it’s me in the real world, you’d be fired if you were working for me. So, hey, I don’t know what to do to emphasize what a poor job you’ve been doing with the service.”

Commissioners also emphasized a lack of communication from energy companies to customers. Commissioner Eric Skrmetta called it a “lack of understanding in the community” due to customer complaint departments largely being located out of the state. Cleco has clarified that all of the company’s customer service offices and customer service representatives are located in Louisiana.

Commissioner Lambert Boissiere followed that, saying the core relationship with customers is that document or bill that they receive, joining Skrmetta’s suggestion of looking more closely at what the LPSC really expects from companies, especially in the communication area.

Cleco provided their plan to News Channel 5, addressing the communication concerns. A new online customer account management system called MyAccount is expected to launch by Sept. 23. It will allow Cleco customers to continue to pay their bill online, view and compare usage, set up a daily usage alert, enroll in budget billing, authorize a guest user and more. Customers can also opt into secure communications with Cleco by providing email addresses and phone numbers for the system.

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