Inflated electric bill shocks Cumberland homeowner

CUMBERLAND, R.I. (WPRI) – When Donald Blais opened his most recent electric bill, he was surprised to see a $659 charge. Typically, the bill for his Cumberland home hovers around $120.

“It’s not anywhere near what we’ve normally been paying,” Blais told Call 12 for Action. “It was a shock. It really was.”

When Blais contacted National Grid for an explanation, he was told the bill was a “catch-up” bill. Blais had received estimated bills for seven months, and his actual electricity usage was more than he had been billed for and paid.

“Estimated Reading” was printed on the monthly bills. Blais admits he should have noticed, but never did.

“I guess I had just gotten in the groove, every month writing the check,” he said.

According to National Grid, meter readings for most customers are collected remotely in a van. The company said Blais’ meter was working but the transmitter failed to send readings to the van.

“I just don’t think it’s fair,” Blais said. “If they’re having problems reading the meter for a month or two, they need to stop, come to the house, whatever their procedure is and find out what’s going on so that consumers aren’t faced with an almost $700 bill.”

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In an email, National Grid told Call 12 for Action, “It wasn’t until March that we were able to determine what the problem was and replace the meter. During that period the customer was billed based on an average monthly usage from the previous twelve months… He [Blais] was given a $25 credit for the inconvenience and we offered to give him an extended payment plan, which the customer declined.”

The email went on to say, “The goal is to provide bills based on actual readings whenever possible.”

According to the utility company, the best way to know if there’s a problem with your meter is by comparing your current bill to a previous month. If it’s much higher or lower than usual, there may be an issue.

If you notice the words “estimated reading” on your bill, call National Grid’s customer contact center at 800-322-3223 to inquire.

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.