My four-decade-long career at The Courant ended Friday as I was fired for doing my job – being the advocate for consumers.
My career beganÂ in June 1969 as a reporter in the Willimantic bureau and ended as the first – and likely last – investigative consumer columnist at the nation’s oldest newspaper of continuous publication.
The last three years have been the most satisfying, working as a team with literally thousands of consumers, shining the light on companies and public servants who failed to perform as promised.
So it’s proper that I revisit Connecticut Light & Power and give you an update on where we stand.
Because of your complaints we forced the stateâ€™s largest utility to make dramatic changes to improve its customer service.
It now tests meters as required by state laws. It actually allows customers to speak to supervisors. It stopped filing harassment suits against the seriously ill, who were protected by law from shutoffs.
Complaints about high meter readings are no longer shrugged off. State public utility regulators are keeping a much closer eye on this company, with 1.2 million customers.
The question that readers raised more than two years ago about whether all of CL&Pâ€™s meters are accurate still canâ€™t be answered by me. I am sure the vast majority are.
But two cases – where there were highly usual meter readings – raise questions that CL&P has not been able to answer to my satisfaction. And until they can explain them, I encourage regulators and customers to remain skeptical.
The first case involves the Calibey family, a West Hartford couple who spend their winters in a very modest condo on the east coast of Florida.
For 20 years they have shut their home down to winter in sunny southern Florida.
In 18 of those years their electric usage decreased in winter, as they always turned off most of their appliances and locked up their home. But in the last two out of three years their usage increased dramatically while in Florida â€“ higher than what it was when they were home.
Each of the two times, CL&P had the meters checked and rechecked. They reported them to be accurate.
After last winterâ€™s spike in readings, a team of CL&P inspectors went through the house and spent hours interviewing the Calibeys.
I had previously reported their findings, which, as far as I am concerned, are highly suspect. All the reports will be made available in the coming days on my blog, www.ctwatchdog.com. You can make up your own mind.
Anthony Calibey, who studied electrical engineering in college, insists there was something wrong with the meters he had this past winter and the one he had three years ago, or the equipment used to send/receive their readings.
After numerous meetings and conversations with CL&P officials this summer he threatened to take them to small claims court unless they refunded him $400 â€“ the amount he calculates the meter overcharged him last winter.
Last month CL&P agreed to his demand and credited his account by $400, while insisting that its meter was just fine. It was a goodwill gesture, the company said.
The company said this week that it continues to work with the Calibeys and with the couple involved in the second case. The company declined further comment.
The second case involves a Windsor Locks couple, Karen Stevens and Jean Bissett.
After complaining for years that they believed their electric meter was inaccurate, CL&P finally came to their condo last January and replaced the meter and had it tested. The meter tested perfect.
But the readings on the new meter dropped by as much as 50 percent month after months compared the same time periods the previous years. The couple insisted that nothing changed in their household or their usage patterns.
CL&P spent hours inspecting the home, questioning the couple, but as far as I am concerned their investigation did not come up with an answer that would satisfy most people with a sense of logic. It was just normal patterns, the report states.
â€œTheir own numbers showâ€ the problem, Bissett wrote me.
â€œMy minimal guessamation is that we have been over billed somewhere between $4,600-$6,800 that we have printed records of. Once again, the problem started in July 2005, and did not change until CL&P changed the meter in January 2009. Thatâ€™s my point which I want to further discuss with CL&P, but to no avail,â€ he added.
Copies of his bills will be put on my blog, as well as CL&Pâ€™s own report. So again, draw your own conclusions.
The other major electric utility in Connecticut, United Illuminating, has a policy of refusing to give credit when there are seemingly unanswered issues about why meter readings suddenly spike or jump. Its officials say they investigate until they figure out what happened.
There is more to do than just worry about whether some meters are accurate. You as the consumer need to take charge to reduce your electrical usage.
Get an energy audit (contact me and I will help as many of you as I can); install energy-saving lights; use fans as much as possible instead of air conditioning in the summer; turn the heat down in the winter and winterize your home, if you can afford to; and replace old refrigerators, stoves, dryers and freezers with new energy savings models (pick up a new one that was dented or scratched at most retailers).
And again, thank you for all you have done to make OUR Watchdog column a place where we could help and learn from each other. It has been a tremendous honor working with all of you. You can be proud of what we accomplished. And my goal is to continue to work together.
From now on, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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