Friday, January 16, 2009

NES To Work With Customers With High Bills

News Channel 5 NASHVILLE, Tenn. - With temperatures dipping down near zero Thursday night, your furnace will have to work overtime. That's why Nashville Electric Service is starting to work with customers who will get hit with a big bill thanks to the cold weather. NES President/CEO Decosta Jenkins outlined the reasons behind the big bills for Metro Council members and told them what the utility can do to help. People are doing what they can to stay warm. "You can look around, all over the city, all over this country people are hurting," Jenkins said. At NES, managers are doing as much as they can to ease the pain of high electric bills. "We'll show as much empathy as we can, we'll work with them as long as we can," he said. Several Metro Council members came out Thursday night to get the back story on skyrocketing monthly statements. Jenkins put much of the blame on the Tennessee Valley Authority. The electric wholesaler has raised the rate it charges NES 34 percent since April; nearly 24 percent of that is a fuel surcharge. Combine that with colder weather over the last few months. Also, because of holidays, many customers had 34 days on their bill instead of the usual 28. "We know these four factors are having an impact on everybody," he said. If customers ask, NES will take the average of their last three December bills and let them pay the average and spread out the difference over three months. NES will also waive late fees and be more lenient on cut-offs. "I applaud you in being creative in the things that you've mentioned," said Metro Councilwoman Vivian Wilhoite. Still, some council members wonder how people will get out from under mounting electric bills. "Even if we make arrangements, what happens the next month if it's 400 or 500, and now you're $300 behind, how do we continue and stop the snowball," said Metro Councilman Robert Duvall. Still, any little bit of help might make a difference as the temperature continues to drop. Changes are also coming to the NES call center. Right now, 80 people are taking calls and setting up special payment arrangements. They've started mandatory overtime for people and they're hiring 45 temporary workers to man extra phone lines so customers can get through in a decent amount of time. NES hasn't raised the actual rates it charges since 2006. But, there is a planned, 3-5 percent increase in the rate next year.

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