Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Help Me Howard: Power Protection
You use it daily but probably notice it only monthly. It is electricity, and we all get a power bill for our portion each month. One man took a closer look at his charges and says the electric company is draining his wallet for a service he never ordered, so he's turning to 'Help Me Howard' with Patrick Fraser to shed some light on the issue.
WSVN -- If there is one thing we take for granted, it's electricity. Take for granted, until it goes out.
Come to think of it, you think about electricity on two occasions. When it goes out, and when you get your monthly bill.
Bruce Hannover: "I've lived in this house for 19 years, and I think I could never consciously remember checking the line items on my printed bill when it comes in from Florida Power and Light."
If you're like Bruce Hannover, and I am, you look at this line to see how much your power bill is, then maybe over here to see how many kilowatts you used this year compared to last year. Then you pay and move on. Fortunately, Bruce gave his bill a second look.
Bruce Hannover: "And I started looking at it and there was, at that time, insurance, and I called up FPL at the time, and I said, 'I didn't authorize this.'"
This is what Bruce found on his FPL bill: he had been charged $19 and some change for something called "appliance protection plus." Basically, surge insurance for your home, so he called up the electric company to straighten it out, and was shocked.
Bruce Hannover: "They discovered that I had been charged almost $20 a month for the last 34 months, since April of 2005, so, when we calculated it all, I believe there's 34 months at $19.07 or something. It came to over $600.
And if you look at your FPL bill you might be surprised by the charges. On mine there is a $10 gross receipts tax. A $24 franchise tax, I didn't realize I owned a franchise. There is also a $23 utility tax. Those are irritating but legal. Bruce's insurance fee was not.
Bruce Hannover: "I would hate to think that FPL was doing this on purpose. That just would epitomize corporate greed in America today."
They were not, FPL admitted. They had made a mistake over the past three years. Bruce waited for his $600 check back. Not exactly.
Bruce Hannover: "I paid you $600 and some dollars over the course of almost three years. I'd like to have it back, not to wait one to two business cycles, like they're telling me. I have to wait for it to show up on my bill. I would like a check."
FPL told him, "We won't give you a refund. We will just deduct it from future electric bills." Bruce didn't like that and discovered, when battling the power company, he was powerless.
Bruce Hannover: "There's nothing you can do about it. It's a monopoly, and, unless you have your own generating capability, I think you're kind of left at the whims of the big companies."
He couldn't beat FPL, but Bruce thought he could at least issue a warning.
Bruce Hannover: "The reason I contacted 'Help Me Howard' was because I wanted to put others in a similar situation as my own on alert to go look and read your electric bill."
But what can the power company charge you for, and if they charge for something you didn't approve, can they refuse to pay you back immediately? Howard?
Howard Finkelstein: "FPL cannot charge you for a service that you did not order, and when someone like Bruce catches them in a mistake, they have to refund his money in a reasonable amount of time. Offering to issue a credit against future electric bills is not reasonable."
When we contacted FPL by e-mail they admitted there was an error in Bruce being billed for the plan. When we asked why he couldn't get an immediate cash refund, the answer was not clear. We were told the only form of payment accepted is through the FPL bill. Therefore, we only credit through the FPL bill. Legally, Howard says customers options are limited.
Howard Finkelstein: "FPL has a monopoly. If you can't reason with them, try the public service commission, which regulates them. But, understand, you probably won't get far there, which leaves you either going to court or playing by their rules."
The treatment from the power giant left Bruce a little steamed, and it opened his eyes.
Bruce Hannover: "Every time I hear that the public service commission has given them a rate hike, I get a little angry. We have a large utility company here that is a profit-making entity that is responsible to its stock holders and perhaps not as responsible to its customers as it ought to be."
How many people are being billed for the surge protection insurance? FPL wouldn't tell us, and when we talked to the Public Service Commission, they told us they have no control over this type of service.
Now, if you check your bill and find you have it and want to get out, check your bill. There is a number there to call to cancel it. While we are on bills, check all your bills, cable, gas, water and sewage. You might be surprised at what you find.
A surge in problems zapped your energy? That wouldn't shock us, so contact us. We don't know a kilowatt from a megawatt, but we know "watt" the law is.
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