A woman in rural Alberta is dreading the arrival of her electricity bill after a foul-up by two giant utility companies.
For a year and a half EPCOR has been sending Dawn Kalin, of Drayton Valley, Alta., the wrong bill.
Kalin’s bill actually reflected her neighbour’s usage, while the neighbour wound up paying for the power Kalin used.
The largest bill Kalin received was under $200, while her neighbour paid close to $450 for the same month.
EPCOR is Kalin’s electricity retailer but the wires and meters are owned by FortisAlberta, which provides EPCOR with customers’ meter readings.
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Kalin said six weeks ago EPCOR called and told her to check the serial number on her electricity meter and record the meter reading, then confirmed there had been a mix-up.
“My heart dropped to to my stomach and I felt sick,” Kalin said.
Kalin is still waiting for EPCOR to tell her what she owes, but the difference between what the two neighbours paid over the year and a half is more than $2,000 and EPCOR says it expects her to pay.
“They just told me they crossed the meters and it doesn’t matter whose mistake it was. I’m the owner and I have to pay it.”
Kalin, who keeps livestock on a hobby farm, said she could have taken steps to conserve power had she been sent an accurate bill.
“There’s lots of things I would have done differently if I’d known I was consuming all the power,” Kalin said.
“I would have made my pasture smaller. I wouldn’t have had two heat lamps in the chicken coop. Instead of having four (water-trough heaters) plugged in I would have made it two. But you don’t know until you get the bill.”
Error threatened friendship, customer says
Kalin said the mistake threatened to cause a rift between her and her neighbour.
She said the two were friends and their children played together, but relations turned frosty when the neighbour texted to say EPCOR would only refund her for 12 months of overpayment and that she would be trying to collect the remainder from Kalin herself.
“It almost wrecked our friendship,” Kalin said.
“If I consumed the power and she paid the bill, she’s only right to get the money back. But it wasn’t my fault. I shouldn’t have to refund it.”
Kalin said a call to the Alberta Utilities Consumer Advocate confirmed that under Alberta law EPCOR would have to refund the neighbour the entire overpayment.
EPCOR has since refunded the neighbour, but insists Kalin must pay for 12 months of usage, the maximum it is entitled to claim under the law.
Kalin said she’s frightened what the mail will bring this week and feels she shouldn’t have to pay for a large corporation’s mistake.
Bill is accurate, consumer must pay, EPCOR says
EPCOR said it did nothing wrong and the bills it sent Kalin and her neighbour were correct based on the meter readings it was given by FortisAlberta.
FortisAlberta spokeswoman Jennifer MacGowan said Kalin was caught in a “cross-metering situation”.
“FortisAlberta has over 500,000 customer sites and in the last year we’ve had instances of about 100 sites where the meters were crossed,” MacGown said.
MacGowan puts the blame on mistakes by electrical contractors in a busy economy, but said it’s a small portion of the the company’s customer base.
“It’s an honest mistake when this happens and obviously FortisAlberta is there to correct it when we are aware of the situation.”
FortisAlberta only collects for various distribution and system charges, while EPCOR collects the cost of electricity.
“What it boils down to is there was no EPCOR error,” said Tim LeRiche, EPCOR spokesman.
“We’ve checked and we’ve accurately billed all the meter information that was given to us,” LeRiche said.
“Now we’ve gone back to the customers and will apply the appropriate credit and debit to correct the error.
“We all have to pay for the energy you use. You have to pay for your energy, I have to pay for my energy,” LeRiche said.
Both MacGowan and LeRiche said it’s up to the consumer to make sure their bill is right.
Kalin said the name, address and account number on her bills were all correct.
“I mean, who reads the back, the little fine print of your meter number?”
LeRiche dismissed suggestions EPCOR benefited by selling Kalin more electricity than she would otherwise have used had she been given accurate bills.
“Under the rules we can go back one year. I understand this issue goes back even farther than that, so they won’t have to pay for that.”
Kalin said simply following the law isn’t the same as doing the right thing.
“I think they should eat it to tell you the truth. I don’t know if it was Fortis or Epcor, but one of them should be eating the bill because it was their mess up not mine.”
EPCOR response 'pathetic'
Joe Anglin, the Wildrose utilities critic, called EPCOR’s insistence that it made no error “ludicrous.”
“That’s a pathetic response,” Anglin said.
“If they accurately billed, then they would have accurately billed. Clearly, they did not.”
Anglin said it’s like someone going into a store, paying the bill, then being chased down a year later for more money.
“They misbilled. That’s their problem. They need to eat their mistake and be responsible and they’re not being responsible.
“What they are doing is penalizing and bullying an individual and we’ve got to stop this whole bullying,” Anglin said.
“EPCOR is wrong on this. They should be held accountable and someone should step up and hold them accountable for this misbehaviour.”
Kailin is moved to tears when she describes what it’s been like dealing with EPCOR.
“Trying to deal with the neighbour, trying to deal with everything, trying to call EPCOR, calling all the Utilities Commission ... then dealing with my animals, dealing with my kids. I feel like they are picking on me.”
A spokesman for Energy Minister Diana McQueen referred inquiries to Service Alberta, which said Kailin’s options include contacting the Utilities Consumer Advocate Mediation Team.