Just as Westfielders were trying to resume some semblance of normalcy and put the letters P, S, E and G out of their minds, the utility's bills are showing up in mailboxes all over town and they may not take into account those long, cold days and dark, frigid nights in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
Despite the fact that many Westfield residents were without power for as long as 14 days, not including Monday's brief interruption in service, the bills may not reflect the recent outages.
When Claire Tafelski and her mother, both Westfield residents, received their PSE&G bills, both were higher than the previous month's and both were marked as estimates.
"My mother, who lives alone in a small house, received an invoice that was almost twice the amount of the previous month," Tafelski explained. "However, my mother was out of power from Oct. 29 through Nov. 12 and I was out of power for about six days, so I find it difficult to believe that these estimates take into account the loss of power experienced by many customers."
Tafelski noted that assuming she and her mother aren't alone in receiving these estimates, the utility stands to benefit in a big way.
"On a larger scale, about 1.7 million customers were out of power for some duration, and as of Nov. 3, five to six days after the storm, about 600,000 were still out of power," she stated. "I also believe that this was the coldest part of the month when usage would have been highest.
"Assuming that at least some of their invoices are similarly overstated, PSEG is effectively getting an interest-free loan for millions of dollars from its customers, many of whom are extremely dissatisfied by their service and/or experiencing economic hardships as a result of the storm. I want to be clear that I understand that their employees were working diligently to restore power, and I sincerely respect and appreciate their efforts. However, the manner in which PSEG has handled the situation has been well below the bar. That said, PSE&G has advised that customers can submit an actual meter reading and they will correct the invoice."
Utility Communications Consultant for PSE&G Deann Muzikar explained that some customers may receive bills that are based on actual meter readings though they may be late due to a delay in bill processing and mail delivery. Many other customers will receive estimated bills, as most meter readers have been performing storm-related duties, she added.
"System estimates are based on historical usage patterns and don’t reflect outages experienced as a result of Sandy," she stated. "The next time our meter readers are able to get an actual reading, the bill will be adjusted to reflect actual usage."
Tafelski said as she'd expected, her meter reflected half the usage estimated in her invoice. After contacting @PSEGdelivers on Twitter, Tafelski was told customers could call in to have their bills adjusted.
"I called PSEG and was told only a PSEG meter reader could submit a reading," she explained. "However, I insisted that I was told that I could call and report my actual reading and was transferred to someone else who made the adjustment. However, after the adjustment was made, I was informed that a credit would be reflected on my next invoice, which is essentially the equivalent to doing nothing and waiting for the next actual reading to occur in December. I responded by indicating that a PSEG representative previously informed me that I could receive an updated invoice for this month. She then revised my invoice for this month. It took about 15 minutes, but at the end of the day they corrected the issue."
Muzikar said customers can advise PSE&G of their readings by calling 800-436-7734.