What’s ‘normal?’ Troubleshooters investigate LG&E heating bill complaints
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - In an effort to reduce his heating bills, Tom Zoeller said he keeps his thermostat at 65 degrees and wears layers inside his house, but he still has to call LG&E to question his bill on a regular basis.
“She told me, ‘You can actually read the meter yourself if you don’t think we’re reading it right. You can actually read the meter yourself,’” Zoeller said. “And I said, ‘Well I’m not sure I can actually do that,’ and she said, ‘It’s so easy my grandchild can do it.’ And I thought to myself, ‘Well, I’d like to meet your grandchild.’”
Mary Barnes receives $1,191 in disability each month and said her LG&E bills, like Zoeller’s, have more than doubled in recent months, from $151 to $270.
“This here, this is a fifth,” LG&E customer Mary Barnes said, “20% of my income.”
Zoeller and Barnes’ were caught off guard after the unusually mild December when they thought they were about to get a much-needed break from the higher bills that would come with the colder weather.
“I got the bill from that time frame, and it’s $177, and I thought we had mild weather in that billing period,” Zoeller said. “That’s high for me.”
Following a closer look, he said he discovered a $19 charge for something called the Weather Normalization Adjustment. Barnes’ Weather Normalization Adjustment cost slightly less than $30.
They both said they feel punished for cutting back and receiving a rare gift of a warmer winter month.
“It was unusually mild for December,” Zoeller said. “They wound up charging me $19 more and they call it Weather Normalization because it wasn’t a 30 degree day in December like normal. They always try to tell you everything’s to your advantage. Well, how are they helping me out with that? Charging me an extra $19 because mother nature smiled on us and we got a mild day in December?”
“LG&E is saying we don’t care how much or how little you use it, we’re going to bill you,” Barnes said.
“Weather Normalization?” Zoeller said. “To me, I bet they had to sit around a long time to think of what they were going to call that. I mean what exactly is Weather Normalization? What is that? What is normal? Who’s going to define what normal is? What do they base that on?”
LG&E successfully applied to the Public Service Commission in 2009, according to WAVE’s investigation, to “make its gas Weather Normalization Adjustment clause permanent” from November to April each year. According to LG&E, “The WNA is intended to reduce the impact of temperature fluctuations on distribution costs... ensuring that LG&E recovers its distribution system revenue requirements.”
“The Weather Normalization Adjustment is really, on mild winters, we don’t collect enough monies to match the revenue we got approved to collect through the commission, because of that we will ask for more for that,” LG&E Pricing Manager Mike Hornung said.
Basically, Hornung said during a warmer winter, LG&E is not bringing in enough money to cover distribution costs.
“Because of the volatility of weather, we as a utility may under-earn and under-collect for all the infrastructure we put in to serve our customers,” he said.
He pointed out that when the weather is extremely cold, customers get a refund for Weather Normalization. For example, Zoeller was charged $19 for Weather Normalization during a warm month and received a $5 refund during a much colder month. However, according to WAVE’s analysis of Public Service Commission filings for 2021’s heating season, the millions of dollars paid out for Weather Normalization are nearly double the amount refunded.
“I’m sitting in my house wearing layers, keeping my thermostat down and we get a gift of a warm December and I still get hit for 20 to 30 more dollars?” WAVE asked Hornung.
“Well, it’s a tough sell obviously, but I would suggest to you that the customers are made better,” Hornung said. “The weather was milder, so they utilize less. The gas cost, which is a big part of the bill as well, will be lower because they didn’t consume as much.”
“They get you to where you don’t know if you’re coming or going with the whole thing,” Zoeller said.
So, what if they didn’t have a Weather Normalization Adjustment fee to use during the warmer winter months? According to Hornung, LG&E would be underpaid and would have to go back to the Public Service Commission to request a rate increase.
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