Wednesday, February 4, 2009
January NES bills stir new calls
December charges also shocked customers By Chris Echegaray • THE TENNESSEAN • February 4, 2009 Nashville's Adugna Denbel purchased his first home in October, a 2,069-square-foot house built in 2005. But the thrill of being a first-time homebuyer lost its luster after he made payment arrangements to keep the place heated, Denbel said Tuesday. His most recent electric bill was $356, up from $190. "I've kept it at 68 and 65 degrees, no longer at 70," said Denbel. "I'm told nothing is wrong with the meter. It's just cold. Imagine that." Nashville Electric Service has received 35,000 calls — 12 percent of its residential customers — about January bills, including requests for payment arrangements. Some might also be among the 31,000 who called about their December bills, NES spokeswoman Laurie Parker said. A normal call volume for NES would be 2,000 a day, including making regular payments and typical inquiries, Parker said. After the January bills hit mailboxes, NES averaged 5,000 calls a day, mostly complaints, she said. NES serves about 355,000 customers in Davidson County and other parts of Middle Tennessee. "It's been unusual," said Parker. "It's been the perfect storm. The rate increases have been compounded with the cold weather." NES has maintained that the high electric bills stem from the Tennessee Valley Authority's 9.1 percent rate increase, the more than 20 percent fuel cost adjustment, extra days tacked on to bills and the cold weather. NES is working with customers, making payment arrangements and, in some cases, waiving late fees. It has customers who never had late payments calling and making arrangements. "We have people calling to complain, but they do pay the bills," Parker said. Denbel, originally from Ethiopia, said he went in person to deal with the issue, but there's not much he could do but pay the bill. The main question from many residential customers is why the kilowatt usage jumped at an exorbitant rate. Lori Eslick, who lives in an insulated home in Inglewood, said her kilowatt usage has increased by 3,000 kilowatts compared with last winter, translating to a January bill of $642. 26. "It just really makes no sense," Eslick said. "We are fortunate enough to be able to pay this. But no one can explain the kilowatt usage. Of course, my heart breaks for the people who can't afford these ridiculous bills."