Answer Man: Duke Energy charged for non-existent streetlights?

·5 min read
A Leicester resident questioned a Duke Energy bill that charged for streetlights, as the neighborhood doesn't have any.
A Leicester resident questioned a Duke Energy bill that charged for streetlights, as the neighborhood doesn't have any.

Today’s batch of burning questions, my smart-aleck answers and the real deal:

Question: I am writing you regarding Duke Energy’s new bills. They are now breaking our bills down to show charges for street lighting in developments with homeowners associations. I found out that for the last 14 1/2 years, Duke has been charging me and my neighbors approximately $10.70 per month, each, for the street lights in our development of 20 houses. There is only one big problem – my street and development have NEVER had any street lights! This is off Slick Rock Road in Leicester. The development is called Solomon Acres. The charge on my bill is $6.04 for a fixture charge, and a separate charge for 48 KWH of usage for these alleged streetlights. Once again, there are no streetlights! They could not explain these charges and had no answer for where they got the number of KWH from. There is no meter number attached to these charges. I have contacted the state utility commission regarding this. I thought you might be interested in this due to the possible number of homes that have been charged this for years. Just on my street alone, there are 20 homes. I estimate that I have been overcharged approximately $1,800 dollars over the course of 14 1/2 years! Can you check into this?

My answer: You do have to admit it's a pretty brilliant business strategy. In other news, I have not written a book. Send me $25 and I will not send you a copy.

Real answer: This sharp-eyed reader was on to something.

"We have investigated this matter and determined that customers in this neighborhood were billed in error each month for street lights in their community, when in fact street lights had not actually been installed," Jeff Brooks, a Duke Energy spokesman, said via email. "We are working to understand how this error occurred. It appears to be a unique situation, but one that Duke Energy is committed to resolving with all involved."

Duke is working to reimburse the customers, and Brooks said Duke apologizes for the error and "is committed" to resolving it.

More: Answer Man: Duke Energy selling $3 renewable energy blocks? What's up with Asheville Hardware?

"We are in the process of reaching out to all customers affected to make them aware of the error and to arrange a credit or refund of these charges," Brooks said. "We are refunding back to the time customers were first charged for the lights, with interest on those charges."

This appears to be somewhat of a happy ending for the overcharged residents, as at least they're getting their money back. Indeed, I got a follow-up email from the reader, Bob Hoppenhauer, noting that Duke acknowledged the mistake.

"We are all being reimbursed for all the years of overcharging us," he said via email. "Apparently they have been charging myself and my neighbors $6.46 per month, or $77.52 per year, since 2002! All of us will be reimbursed for as long as we have lived here, plus 10% interest! For myself it totals about $1,200. Some have been here even longer and will be seeing big checks also."

Brooks said Duke is investigating how this happened.

"It is common when neighborhoods are developed for customers to be charged for street lights in their community, as the lights serve the common good of the residents and the neighborhood," Brooks explained. "Street light contracts can vary among neighborhoods, based on how the lights were set up originally with the developer or the entity that ordered the lights. Lights may be charged to an HOA, paid for by a developer, or the costs spread among all of the residents in that neighborhood."

A Leicester resident started questioning his Duke Energy bill in November, as it showed streetlights in his neighborhood, and there aren't any.
A Leicester resident started questioning his Duke Energy bill in November, as it showed streetlights in his neighborhood, and there aren't any.

In some areas, street lights are owned by the municipality. All this varies based on location, Brooks added.

"As part of our investigation, we sent our lighting team to the neighborhood to inspect the area and verify the location all lights in the community," Brooks said. "We were able to determine that there were no lights in the neighborhood that matched the items in our inventory."

Brooks also noted that Duke has recently transitioned to a new customer system and bill format, as the reader mentioned.

"The new format is designed to be easier to read and provide customers with more information about the charges they pay for their electric service," Brooks said. "Neighborhood street light charges are one detail that has been added to customer bills who receive this service."

So, check those bills carefully!

And for Hoppenhauer and his neighbors, Merry Christmas!

And don't forget: I've not got a book out for just 25 smackers...

More: Answer Man: Duke Energy developing site? Curbie using self-driving trucks?

Cohen correction: So, in the Answer Man column of Dec. 1, I managed to mess up where Citizen Times cartoonist David Cohen is from. For the record, Cohen and family moved to Asheville in 1970 from Atlanta. Cohen was a high school junior at the time.

Cohen was born in New York City and lived there for five years, then spent four years in New Jersey.

At any rate, we're glad you ended up here, David! My apologies for the error, and please don't fire me as your publicist...

This is the opinion of John Boyle. To submit a question, contact him at 232-5847 or jboyle@citizen-times.com

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Answer Man: Duke Energy charging for non-existent streetlights?

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