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    PPL faults bad data cleanup for billing mess earlier this year affecting thousands of customers, advocate says


    November 8, 2022 - Anthony Salamone, The Morning Call

     

      After about 12,000 PPL Electric Utilities customers got wrong bills this spring, the company blamed the mix-up on a data cleanup of mailing addresses.

      That’s according to Pennsylvania Consumer Advocate Patrick M. Cicero, who said there have not been any consumer complaints filed to his office since The Morning Call reported the issue in June.

      Cicero said PPL officials told his office the company was trying to update customer addresses using its smart meter technology. Some addresses were for old listings, he said.

      “What they said to us is they were trying to clean up their billing records, to make sure they had accurate addresses, because they had a certain number of addresses they thought were inaccurate,” Cicero said.

      Cicero said he understands PPL used GPS location “pings” when the company installed its smart meters, then tried overlaying that with other data. “I think the pings were accurate — within reason,” Cicero said, “but not sufficient for purposes of generating mailing addresses.”

      Cicero said he did not think the problem stemmed from the meters per se, but a “combination of assumptions” that were made about how to generate good mailing information.

      “At the end of the day, I think this was PPL trying to get data cleaned up, and it did not work,” Cicero said. “They ultimately undid all of this and have done some root cause analysis to make sure they don’t go down this road again.”

      PPL agreed to waive late fees and work with affected customers on payment agreements, Cicero said. His office did not file a complaint with state regulators, and state Public Utility Commission spokesperson Nils Hagen-Frederiksen had no new information to provide. The consumer advocate’s office represents residential customers in utility rate cases and other matters.

      PPL spokesperson Jane George said in a statement the company on July 2 returned the addresses of affected customers to what it initially had on file. Any customers who incurred late fees had their accounts credited, she said.

      Cicero said PPL told him the mistake affected about 68,000 customers, most of them residential users. Many people disregarded the mailings, because they pay online or through auto-pay, he said.

      But other customers were unnerved by the billing errors, with at least one saying she received two PPL bills in the mail for different customers, despite paying their bills online.

      Smart meters use radio technology similar to that of cellular telephones to establish two-way communication with each customer, giving utilities instantaneous readings about consumption and operations of the power grid. The devices also allow utilities to remotely turn on or shut off service.

      While Pennsylvania has mandated their use, according to the PUC, some customers have objected to smart meters as an invasion of privacy or a health concern, specifically that electromagnetic frequencies emitted by the devices make them sick.

      Utility customers who receive incorrect bills or incur late fees wrongly should contact their companies’ customer service. PPL customers can call 800-342-5775.

      This is not the first instance in which PPL has run afoul over a billing matter. The PUC approved a settlement in August with PPL after the company improperly billed five residential customers during 2017 and ‘18.

      PPL, which delivers electricity to 1.4 million customers in 29 counties, including much of the Lehigh Valley, agreed to pay a $5,000 civil penalty and provide better procedures in its billing practices.

      PPL Electric is a subsidiary of PPL Corp., which provides electricity and natural gas to more than 3.5 million customers in four states: Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Rhode Island and Virginia.

      Morning Call journalist Anthony Salamone can be reached at asalamone@mcall.com.

      ©2022 The Morning Call. Visit mcall.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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