Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

February 22, 2014

They’re sneaking into your wallet

Allegheny Power recently went through some reorganization, including name and service area changes. West Virginia went back to Potomac Edison (in most of Mineral County).

I recently noticed that the bill format was completely changed. The print is smaller and hard to read. The bill shows usage and the account summary is in a confusing format.

On my May bill I noticed “miscellaneous charges” for $102. In another section of the bill there was a “security deposit charge” of $102.

I have not paid a security deposit charge, to the original Potomac Edison, since 1977 when we bought this house. There was no other explanation on the bill. Under the “Messages Section” in very small print was a statement about a 2 percent late payment charge being added if not paid by due date. This was understood.

My April bill said nothing about a security deposit either. I don’t set out to pay my bills late but sometimes paying a small “late fee” is less hassle then life’s hassles.

April was one of those months. A February bill had a reminder of an unpaid bill. The check was paid a couple days late; it would’ve crossed in the mail.

On March’s bill was a notice that “Potomac Edison is permitted to request a security deposit when payment history is unsatisfactory.” I could not find it in writing anywhere what detailed what is unsatisfactory.

Security deposits have always been about when you turn on a utility or rent a house or piece of equipment. Anything related to late payments have always been about fees or percentages.

In a Rate pamphlet that was sent out when Allegheny Power became Potomac Edison, there was a “term of payment” section stating “2% late payment charges” will be added if the bill is not paid in full within 20 days from the date mailed. There was no mention of a “security deposit”.

After calling Potomac Edison to complain, I got the following explanation: if you are late twice in a 12 month period (based on a postmark), Potomac Edison is now charging residential customers a security deposit.

Then after one year, if your payments have all been made by the due date without interruption, Potomac Edison will return your deposit. It makes no difference what your credit rating is or how long you have been a customer and have never been disconnected.

Only once in 35 years did I get a month behind. I got caught up and was never taken off a payment plan. The only thing Potomac Edison did was to allow me to make payments in several installments because my income goes way down in the summer.

I was told this change occurred last year as a way to quote “tighten up.” I contacted West Virginia’s Public Service Commission to file a complaint. According to them, they have no jurisdiction over security deposits.

So Mineral County’s Potomac Edison customers, you need to be aware that your wallet could get squeezed by a hundred dollars or more if you are not watching closely.

In addition, Potomac Edison’s due date is inconsistent. This practice could have more of a negative effect on the elderly, those with chronic illnesses, or on a fixed income and those who are low income but do not qualify for energy assistance.

Thank you, Potomac Edison, you’ve just worn out your welcome mat.

 Ellen Dow

Ridgeley, W.Va.

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