DENVER — Mistakes happen.
When a business makes a mistake, the customer is usually taken care of.
When a multi-billion-dollar monopoly like Xcel Energy makes a mistake, customers could be asked to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars.
“I thought maybe they had the mini-mall right here attached to my bill,” said Broomfield Xcel customer Michelle Barela.
She received a bill that is due on Friday for much more than any bill she has received.
“$2,983.27,” Barela said.
Most of that bill is for a “billing error” from Sept. 2021 through Feb. 2023.
“I called them and the first girl just told me that I could get on a payment plan, and so I asked to talk to a supervisor, and she told me that she can’t transfer me that they would have to call me back. When she called me back, she told me there was nothing that she could do, that I could call LEAP,” Barela said.
LEAP is the Low-income Energy Assistance Program.
“When I called LEAP, they said they stopped helping May 1,” Barela said.
LEAP accepts applications for assistance from Nov. 1 to Apr. 30.
“Usually I pay about $115 because we don’t have A/C,” Barela said. “When they put in the new smart meter about a month later, my bill, instead of being like around $115, it was $535.”
In Lakewood, Tracy Saunders got a confusing bill, too.
“I got a notification that I had been billed incorrectly,” Saunders said.
The letter Saunders received, along with her regular bill, said she Xcel had investigated an “electric irregularity.”
“On that day I got my regular Xcel bill and I got this massive one for over $805. Sticker shock,” Saunders said.
They both suspect the billing issue has something to do with the installation of a new smart meter.
“I feel like it’s not coincidence that my installation notice left on my door knob said July 9 and the billing problem started July 26,” Saunders said. “I do, maybe, two loads of laundry a week, and the dishwasher will run one time a week, and it’s nothing out of the ordinary.”
Saunders’ extra $800 bill was for eight months, from July 2022 to March.
Barela’s bill was for 17 months of error.
“If they’re trying to reach back for under billing, they underbilled a customer, the rules are six months,” said Public Utilities Commission Deputy Director Gene Camp.
The PUC limits recovery of underbilling to six months.
An Xcel spokeswoman responded to this story at 6 p.m. on Wednesday. It is a response that did not directly address our questions and will be included at the end of this article.
We had asked specifically about the accounts that the customers allowed us to share with Xcel.
The Xcel response included a sentence that said, “It is important to note that there are exceptions to this rule, such as meter tampering or fraud, which allow for collection outside the six-month guideline.”
When asked if Xcel was accusing the customers in our story of meter tampering or fraud, the spokeswoman said, “We cannot discuss individual customer account information due to privacy rules, but felt it was necessary to provide you a reason why the 6-month rule may not apply. Typically, there is more to a customer issue than what they share with reporters.”
“I am a shipping manager and sometimes we make mistakes, we ship out the wrong things. We eat the cost of that and we make it right for the customer,” Saunders said.
“They did ask me, was a I paying someone else for electric? And I was like, is there an option for someone else? Because, you know, I mean, let me know,” Barela said.
Xcel Energy statement
We understand our customer’s frustrations when their expectations aren’t met and encourage our customers to reach out to us directly. We have been working directly with these customers but are unable to discuss details about customer accounts due to customer privacy rules, even if a customer has chosen to speak with you about their account.
Here’s what we can share with you, we work diligently to ensure bills are accurate, but issues can occur and that require bill changes. An example is if we have to estimate a customer’s energy use because we cannot access their meter. Estimations are based on previous use. We work to correct any situation as quickly as possible within the guidelines set forth by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, I’ve included the PUC language below for you. It is important to note that there are exceptions to this rule, such as meter tampering or fraud, which allow for collection outside the six-month guideline.
Again, our goal is to work with our customers to quickly resolve issues with their electric or natural gas services and we encourage all customers to reach out directly to our customer care team.
CODE OF COLORADO REGULATIONS 4 CCR 723-4 (Gas)
4402. Adjustments for Meter and Billing Errors.
(a) A utility shall adjust a customer’s bill(s) for gas incorrectly metered or billed as follows.
(IV) In the event of under-billings not provided for in subparagraph (a)(I) or (III) of this rule (such as, but not limited to, an incorrect multiplier, an incorrect register, or a billing error), the utility may charge for the period during which the under-billing occurred, with such period not to exceed six months.
(V) In the event of over-billings not provided for in subparagraph (a)(II) of this rule, the utility shall refund for the period during which the over-billing occurred, with such period not to exceed two years.
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