September 21, 2011

The Honorable Rob Cowles
Chairman, Senate Committee on Energy, Biotechnology, and Consumer Protection
Wisconsin State Capitol
Madison, Wisconsin

RE: Testimony regarding SB 58, relating to liability of public utility customers for unbilled utility service.

Dear Chairman Cowles:

Thank you for the opportunity to testify regarding SB 58, relating to liability of public utility customers for unbilled utility service.

The Citizens Utility Board is a member-supported, nonprofit organization that advocates for reliable and affordable utility service.  CUB represents the interests of residential, farm, and small business customers of electric, natural gas, water, and telecommunication utilities before the Legislature, regulatory agencies, and the courts.

CUB supports SB 58, because for too long, many utility customers have had to pay large electric bills caused by faulty meters. 

This issue was explored in an excellent series of articles written in August 2010 by Ben Jones of the Appleton Post-Crescent (the three articles are attached to this testimony).  Mr. Jones mentioned the plight of the owners of Dorn’s Supper Club, who were billed by We Energies for thousands of dollars due to a meter that wasn’t hooked up and recording properly.  Mr. Jones also discovered that, on average, utilities charge customers more for billing errors than they refund to customers, though this varies by utility. 

In situations in which the utility meter wasn’t working properly, current law allows utilities two years to bill customers for electricity used but not paid for.  Customers have six years to seek refunds if the utility overcharged them for service. 

We believe it’s inappropriate for utilities to be able to charge a customer for electricity that was improperly measured by a faulty meter.  A malfunctioning meter is simply not the fault of the customer.

SB 58 would make utilities responsible for any billing errors in which a customer is currently liable.   The bill would encourage utilities to improve their billing and metering practices, since utilities would not be able to charge other customers for the uncollected amounts.

Thank you for your consideration of our testimony.

Sincerely,
Charlie Higley
Executive Director