"We received a bill for $520, and our normal bill runs $150," said LP&L customer Brent McClure, reeling from sticker shock after receiving an electricity bill for more than three times his monthly average. The explanation from LP&L? "We got a hold of a supervisor after two or three days of trying and he said, 'Well, your meter was read wrong for two months,'" said McClure.
In fact, his meter wasn't read at all. According to sources, instead of walking his route, the meter reader for the McClure's and scores of other was essentially asleep on the job, guessing, in many cases under-estimating the amount of electricity his customers were using, and then submitting false readings.
"The problem has been fixed," said LP&L Office Manager Richard Smith. Tight-lipped about whether or not the meter reader has been fired. "Well, we can't go there. I can't talk about personnel. We can't do that, so just strike that part out," he said.
How many customers have been affected? So far, at least 200 have complained about inflated bills. But the damage could be greater. An average meter reader is responsible for almost 15,000 meters a month.
So why should customers pay for the negligence of an LP&L employee? "It is a situation whereby as a municipal entity, we are forbidden to give away anything of significant value," said Smith.
Officials say they wish they could write off the difference, but they're forbidden by law from doing so, leaving LP&L with a black eye, and customers like the McClures paying the price. "As a good citizen, I'll probably pay the bill, but I feel a little slighted because I've already been a good citizen by sticking with LP&L from all the past problems.