Dominion overcharged some customers on electric bills

Published: Jun. 1, 2017 at 2:57 PM EDT
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Virginia's largest regulated electricity monopoly says it overcharged some of its customers for years by not properly reading their meters, but isn't sure how far back the problem may go.

Dominion Energy recently filed a motion with the State Corporation Commission saying it may have overcharged 24,000 small to mid-sized commercial customers between 2013 and 2016 because Dominion's meter readers were not resetting meters each month to track peak demand. Commercial customers are charged monthly, based on a combination of how much electricity they use and their highest demand for electricity, and some meters need to be physically reset.

Dominion is asking state regulators to approve refunds with interest, and a 5 percent "goodwill credit" for customers who were overcharged between 2013 and 2016. Prior to that, customers will need to provide their bills showing potential overcharging to be eligible for a refund.

Dominion's vice president for customer service, Charlene Whitfield, said the company regrets the error and has re-trained its roughly 110 contract and employee meter readers to avoid future problems. She said the company had robust controls to make sure meter readers checked monthly electric usage, but wasn't as stringent on peak demand readings.

"We probably didn't do as good a job about reinforcing the need to reset that demand each month," she said.

She said Dominion discovered the problem last summer, after some customers raised issues with their bills. Dominion hired a contractor to identify the 24,000 businesses, about 10 percent of its commercial customers in Virginia, who may have been overcharged. Whitfield said she does not know how long meter readers were failing to reset meters, and said the company's doesn't have billing records prior to 2013 to check.

The company's terms and conditions require it to provide refunds for only three years, unless customers provide older "original bills" showing they were overbilled.

State Sen. Chap Petersen, a frequent Dominion critic, said the overcharging "goes to show" the need for greater consumer protections in Virginia. He recently unveiled plans for legislation to create a type of ombudsman to represent Dominion customers.

Dominion serves the eastern two-thirds of Virginia, where its rates, natural gas pipeline plans and outsized political influence have been frequent talking points in Virginia's closely watched gubernatorial race.